Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is facing a grave problem. It has ran out of space for both the living and the dead. Previous attempts by senior politicians and government officers to address the problem has killed careers and dispatched some to an early grave.
This problem is not unique to Nairobi. Well aware that the journey to dignifying the dead can prove quite costly but necessary, countries globally are grappling with the complexities of disposing bodies as pressure on burial space intensifies. In Hong Kong, it has become more expensive to house the dead than the living. According to The Guardian, the cost of burying a loved one is 3 million Hong Kong Dollars (Sh42.4 million) with vacancies in the already crowded cemeteries rarely becoming available.
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Nairobi County is reeling from a similar predicament where the dead keep piling and the graves keep “shrinking”. Whereas Nairobi’s situation isn’t as dire, improper planning and the unabated land grabbing could worsen the situation in the next few years.
Lang’ata cemetery, which covers a total 100 acres, was declared full more than 20 years ago.
The latest effort is by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), which has now set aside Sh150 million in the current financial year for the purchase of land in Mugumoini ward, Lang’ata Sub-county, to act as the county’s official burial ground.
NMS Director General Mohammed Badi, while responding to queries raised by the National Assembly’s Health Committee in November last year, said the undertaking would also lead to the purchase, installation and commissioning of a crematorium at Lang’ata Cemetery.
“A request to the Land directorate to begin the process of acquiring the land and a discussion with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has been initiated. A base budget of Sh150 million has been budgeted for this financial year for the acquisition of the land,” said Badi.
Talks with the KFS have also been initiated. But the long and strenuous search for cemetery land did not begin with the Major General Badi-led institution. It was mooted in 2009 by the now defunct Nairobi City Council under the leadership of then Clerk John Gakuo.
In one of the most memorable and highly publicised moves, the Gakuo-led administration, with aid from the former Local Government permanent secretary Sammy Kirui, paid Sh283 million for 48.5 acres in Mavoko, Machakos County, to act as Nairobi’s official alternative burial grounds.
This, however, led to the haemorrhaging of millions of shillings by City Hall, given the land had been valued at Sh24 million. The land was also found unsuitable as a burial site as it was too rocky, thus throwing City Hall back to the drawing board. Fast forward to 2018, Kirui and Gakuo were jailed for three years after the courts found them guilty of abuse of office and breach of procurement laws.
Kirui was, however, later acquitted after Justice John Onyiego found and held that the PS played no vital role in the procurement process. Gakuo passed away while serving his prison sentence, although he had filed an appeal which was yet to be determined when he died. Then came the former Governor Evans Kidero-led administration whose efforts to find an alternate home for the dead bore no fruits.