For the past six years, the Nakuru County has been unsuccessfully seeking cemetery land after nearly all existing gravesites were filled up.
County Health Chief Officer Samuel King’ori said it has been a struggle to acquire new parcels of land, despite budgetary allocations and advertisements almost each year.
“We have not procured any new cemeteries and have very limited space in the existing ones. Money is there and we have been placing adverts seeking interested sellers without success,” said Dr King’ori.
Apart from opposition from the communities, King’ori said sellers have been overpricing their parcels seeing it as an opportunity to make a killing.
“Some of the old cemeteries had part of their land grabbed. In Subukia, for instance, the public cemetery was grabbed more than 20 years ago and recovering it has been a hurdle,” he said.
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Superstitions have, however, emerged as the greatest source of fear among the residents in the cosmopolitan county.
Justin Tuwei, a Njoro resident and a Kalenjin elder, says his community believes in the world of the living dead and fears human spirits.
“We believe that the dead continue to live among us as spirits. To us, having a cemetery close to your home is equal to living among the dead. There are no specific consequences, but it is something we avoid,” says Tuwei.
This belief is subscribed to by most African communities, thus the unwillingness to sell land to the county government for use as a cemetery.
However, for entrepreneurs, proximity to a cemetery downgrades the value of nearby land.
“We may allow the county to turn a parcel of land in our midst into a cemetery, but who will be willing to buy the surrounding parcels? Nobody. If surrounding landowners object in a public participation forum, the county has no option,” says Charles Njoroge, a resident.
Wachira Mugo, another resident, says living next to a cemetery is not for the fainthearted due to the unavoidable emotional scenes.
“While living next to a cemetery you will be seeing caskets and mourners breaking down every day. If you are weak, you won’t withstand such scenes for long and may be forced to relocate,” says Mugo.
Alex Omondi, who lives in Manyani neighbouring Nakuru South cemetery, however dismisses the superstitions, saying he has never had unusual encounters with the dead.
“When I hear people say the dead walk around at night I get shocked. I have lived next to the cemetery for more than 20 years and such beliefs are baseless. South Cemetery has a lot of vegetation and youths have turned it into a picnic site,” says Omondi.
Nakuru North Cemetery, which was filled up in 2010, is one of the oldest in the country, with 27 Commonwealth graves for World War I and 45 for World War II fighters.
Nakuru South Cemetery got filled up in 2013, forcing residents to bury their loved ones in other public cemeteries in Maili Sita, Subukia, Longonot, Gilgil, Molo and Njoro.
The script is the same for the 1964 Molo Cemetery, which according to former Molo Ward Councillor Charles Njenga, was first filled up in 1984.
“When devolution came the cemetery had been recycled three times. This is the fourth time and it is almost full,” says Njenga.