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Residents move relatives’ graves to make way for roads projects

CENTRAL
By Lydiah Nyawira | June 5th 2021
Workers at a section of Mau Mau Road, which is under construction in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Residents of Nyeri County are set to benefit from two multi-million shilling roads projects that will increase access to Central Kenya.

The two projects are the dual carriageway between Kenol in Murang’a and Marua in Nyeri and the Mau Mau highway at a cost of Sh30 billion.

They will connect four counties and likely interfere with what was the final resting place of  hundreds of people.

As road contractors continue to work, graveyards that have been undisturbed for decades are likely to pave way for the projects.

In Dedan Kimathi Ward, Tetu constituency, the family of Benson Ngatia and Nahashon Ndirigirgi found themselves in dilemma when the road construction crews marked their parents’ graves as part of the road.

Ndigirigi said they were shocked when the contractor informed them that the graves belonging to his father Joseph Biringi, Esther Wangui (mother) and John Ndungu (brother) had to be moved or they would be dug up to pave way for the road.

Project continues

“We did not have enough money to hire a lawyer and get a court order to start the process but the local administration advised us to seek help from the county government,” he said.

The family reached out to the county government and after hearing of their plight, Governor Mutahi Kahiga intervened.

“This intervention was done in a bid to ensure that the right channels are followed as well as to ensure the Mau Mau road project continues as per schedule,” Kahiga said. 

Through the Office of the County Attorney, the family, was issued with a court order in accordance with the Public Health Act to exhume and rebury three bodies of their departed loved ones.  

County Attorney Kimani Rucuiya said the services were offered pro bono. 

“It is unusual for the County Attorney’s office to be involved in representing an individual, as our mandate is strictly on county legal affairs, but this was a special case due to the nature of the request and the impact,” he said.

At the site, the red pieces of clothes marking the area where the graves were previously are still visible and the freshly cut flowers mark the new graves.

Workers at a section of Mau Mau Road which is under construction in Nyeri [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Given support

“I was so emotional, to see my parents remains being disturbed, I could not stay for the whole exercise and could not eat or sleep for days, it brought back such painful memories,” Ngatia said.

He said it was taboo to exhume the remains of his relatives but they had no choice and would only find some solace that the family was given time and support to carry out the exercise. 

“It would have taken us three years, to go through the court process and a lot of money which we did not have to hire a lawyer and even seek the necessary licenses,” he said. 

Barely a day after the exhumation, works continued and the earth movers moved in to the plot, an indication of the urgency of the project. 

However, the fate of remains in one of the oldest public cemeteries in Karatina town, hang in the balance as the dual carriage way edges closer to the town.

The only public cemetery in Karatina had to be closed down after it was declared full, many years ago.

According to John Maingi, a resident, the burial site was used for Mau Mau freedom fighters in 1954 during the State of Emergency.

“The colonial government used this acre of land to bury the freedom fighters in unmarked graves and after Independence, the County Council continued to bury unclaimed bodies and those whose relatives could not afford to bury them,” he noted.

The Kenya National Highway Authority is considering constructing an elevated road in Karatina town in a bid to save the town.

In a public forum held in Karatina Stadium in February this year, the roads agency stated that the new road if implemented would involve the construction of a viaduct over the existing road.

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