By Julius Mbaluto in London
Life is a journey that we all go through without knowing its exact destination. While life abroad is considered blissful; what with efficient transport, social structures, summer barbecues and several friends, it becomes devastatingly hostile when all is not well.
While the final journey is expected to be colourful with close friends and family saying the last goodbyes and a spiritual leader saying the last prayers, sometimes the send-off can be as cold as the London weather.
For example, last July a Kenyan, Ben Nganda, who had settled in London many years ago, died in his house and ended up in a mass grave in London, with six other unclaimed bodies.
- 1 Uhuru calls meeting as infections, deaths soar
- 2 Failure to observe guidelines is fuelling spread of coronavirus
- 3 Disease claims another 18 lives, with 276 found positive
- 4 Covid-19: 18 dead as Kenya records 276 new cases
Nganda and the other bodies were buried on Tuesday August 2012 at the West London Crematorium at 9am local time.
Cause of death unknown
It is not that Nganda was unknown to be buried in a mass grave.
He had friends. In fact, they say he came from Ikutha in Kitui County and once worked at African Centre in London.
He lived in Willesden, West London. However, his death became known to a few of his friends in July but the cause of his death is unknown.
It wasn’t that the Kenya High Commission was unaware of his death; some Kenyans (including this writer) called the embassy in London and reported his death. They wanted the embassy to locate Nganda’s next of kin and an official promised to follow it up.
But instead of his kin claiming the body or being taken home to Kenya for burial, Nganda was buried in the mass grave.
Kenyans, or Africans in London, did not come out to contribute and accord him a decent burial either.The Londoners The Standard spoke to said he would have probably delinked from his people a long time ago.
The Brent Council in London — the one responsible for the area where Nganda lived — said the case was referred to them by the Coroner’s Office after his friends said they were not financially able to arrange the funeral.
A search was carried out at his residence but the council was unable to locate any new information other than what was given by his friends. The council stayed in contact with those who reported the death until the stipulated days that an unclaimed body can be held were over.
In the UK, funeral referrals are made to a local authority under the Public Health Act. This Act is invoked when family or friends are financially unable to arrange the funeral in what is known as ‘arranging funeral for the destitute dead’.
But Nganda was employed and doesn’t fit the bill of being ‘destitute dead’.
The process is such that, after a body is discovered the police will work with the Coroner’s Office to establish cause of death.
They will look for relatives both nationally and internationally; if they are unsuccessful in locating any family members, the case is then referred to the Local Authority.
Once a referral is made to a local authority, the authority then carries out a search in the residence of the deceased for any information relating to family, finance, faith and copies of wills. If they find a will, then they will follow it; if not, they will go ahead with the burial. Of course, if they find relatives, then the responsibility is left to them.
If these are unable to arrange the funeral, the local authority will arrange a basic funeral in accordance with the faith of the deceased. Families are given the option of burying their loved one in a mass grave or the body is cremated and they take the ashes — or the ashes are scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at the chapel.
The Local Authority pays for the mass burial expenses but claims the expenses from any funds remaining in the account of the deceased.
No one will ever know
If Nganda’s accounts are found to be healthy, the money will be held by the State for up to 30 years and family can claim it within that period. Nganda’s case has made many Kenyans in the UK to reflect on their lives.
He might have been supporting his family back home, no one will ever know. And that family may come to know about his death after they cease to receive the money he sends.
They may start tracing him...just like it often happens after someone cuts communication with his kin back home over some unresolved issues.
Nganda’s story confirms what we have always known; we are like flowers, we blossom during the day and wither in the evening.