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Increased land feuds in Kisii leave the dead no place to rest in peace

A  fresh grave at a cemetery with a wooden cross and a white paper note for a name as a temporary headstone. [Erick Abuga, Standard]

In the recent past, the battle for ancestral land in Kisii and the never-ending squabbles over property succession have hunted bereaved families for a lack of land to bury their loved ones.

The region is dealing with unprecedented land disputes, which have resulted in delayed burial rites, with some bodies being held in morgues for years.

Several succession cases at the Kisii and Nyamira Environment and Land Courts that could have been resolved years ago have taken more than 15 years, with families still stranded along court corridors.

The community is now facing a threat because there is no proper estate planning, which could have been the only way to resolve some of the land issues.

By the time the courts resolve the disputes, which can take years, the dead have long been forgotten, with huge bills pending in mortuaries. The problem is exacerbated by the absence of a public cemetery in the two counties.

The case of Joseph Oribo in Kisii county could have triggered a series of land battles that had been dormant for years in the halls of justice and even among family members.

Oribo's body had been in the morgue since 2017 when he died after a long illness, but burial plans were halted due to a court injunction over a three-acre land dispute.

Following the intervention of the Ministry of Lands, the body was later interred in July 2022. The body had spent the entire time at the Nyamache Hospital mortuary.

Family, friends, and colleagues in Nyakwerema, Omonono sublocation, Nyamira, contributed thousands of shillings to Yunia Oseko's burial. Her remains have not been interred two years later. 

Her son, Robert Gebaso, sued his other brother, Joseph Oseko, in court to prevent their mother's burial. The petition claimed that there was a legal battle over the inheritance of ancestral land in Bonyarorande.

Patrick Oseko, the family's eldest son, said some of the family members have never seen their mother's body.

"Some of us are poor, but some of my siblings have everything, and they have denied us the opportunity to bury our mother."

Senior Resident Magistrate Ndege Ogonda of the Milimani Law courts issued orders on March 29, 2021, that the deceased be buried next to her late husband Josephat Oseko in Bonyarorande village, but this has never happened.

Elsewhere, nine months after his death, the body of Kepha Nyachogo in Nyamaiya village, West Mugirango, is still lying in the mortuary.

Due to a long-running land dispute, the court barred his family from holding a burial ceremony. The court order was issued on January 11, a day before his burial and several hours after his grave was dug.

Hosea Nyandika filed a case at the Nyamira Chief Magistrates Court suing on behalf of the estate of Mosagwe Nyachogo accusing the family of the deceased of trespass.

The deceased family through his widow Callen Bwari and two others; Peter Ongera and Erastus Masanya argue that they have not trespassed.

Bwari says together with her deceased husband, they established a home with permanent structures.

“The grave ... is not within the plaintiff's land as it is being claimed," she said.

The widow argues that any development they have done on the said land was registered. The matter is still pending before the court even as the widow is forced to stay at home in line with the Kisii customs.

Kisii Land Registrar Stephen Mogaka says some of the land cases can be resolved amicably.