Families demand pay for graves in airstrip project

Families living near Kakamega airstrip say there must be compensation for the graves to appease their forefathers. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

A dusty road at Murhanda village separates Julius Livasa's mud house and the Kakamega airstrip. Livasa, like 80 other families living near the airstrip, has lived here for many years.

"In fact, my family sold part of our land to the government for the establishment of the facility. The graves of our forefathers lie where the airstrip exists today," he says.

With plans to expand and elevate the airstrip into an airport status, the county government of Kakamega has reached out to Livasa and the other families to relocate and pave the way for the ambitious project.

The initiative is aimed at making Kakamega and Western at large a tourism and economic hub in the region.

Nonetheless, families targeted for relocation are reluctant to move because they cannot abandon the graves of their long-dead forefathers.

They say doing so would go against their traditions and that the dead could come back to haunt them "because it is our duty to protect their final resting places and our ancestral land," said Livasa.

Some of the families are ready to trade the graves with cash in case the county government keeps its word to have them fully compensated and resettled elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, during public participation regarding the relocation of families, they indicated they were ready to move but on condition that they receive compensation for their tiny parcels of land and the graves.

The families are adamant that there must be a separate compensation for the graves to appease their forefathers.

Livasa said they first surrendered part of their land in 1982 when the idea to construct the airstrip was first conceived.

"For my family to surrender the remaining piece of land, there must be compensation for the two graves of my great grandparents, that is what all these other families are asking for," said Livasa.

He said compensating for the graves would help him conduct rituals meant to appease the dead and seek their blessings before relocating in line with Abesukha clan culture and beliefs.

Pascal Nasiali, a resident of Muranda in Shinyalu, Kakamega, shows his wife's grave. He wants compensation before relocating. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Oscar Musonye, 55, another landowner around the airstrip, said the compensation must include graves.

His sentiments were echoed by Pascal Muhanji, 50, who demanded compensation for graves and trees that were cut down to improve the landing of aircrafts.

During the public participation led by Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale, 80 families agreed to be resettled but demanded compensation in cash while rejecting proposals to have them given alternative settlement land elsewhere.

Khalwale urged the families to cooperate because the expansion of the airstrip would bring development and improve the living standards of the residents.

This came barely a month after President William Ruto officially launched the airstrip for commercial flights when he toured Kakamega County.

Kenya Airport Authority spent Sh174 million on the renovation of the facility that was closed in 2013 to upgrade and extend the runway to accommodate larger aircraft.

The runway was extended from 1.3km to 2.2km and requires between 100 and 200 acres for the planned expansion into fully-fledged airport.

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