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Irony of decent funerals for rich as poor wail for respect

By Daniel Wesangula | August 2nd 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Men in white carry the casket containing the remains of the late PCEA Secretary-General Rev Peter Kania Kariuki during his burial in Kikuyu. [Hudson Wainaina/Standard]

The novel coronavirus was heralded as the great equaliser when the first case was confirmed in Kenya.

The virus, it seemed, did not care whether you were a wealthy Nairobi resident or a poor citizen trying to literally scratch off a living from the earth.

Anyone could get it.

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And for a few short weeks, it looked like the gap that has constantly been expanding between Kenya’s rich and poor had been bridged.

Soon though, this emerged as just another wish. With time, the coronavirus has not only preyed on our inequalities, but it has magnified them at a time when the nation is most vulnerable.

Not even in death has the coronavirus failed to remind us of just how different we are, as burials of the prominent and the well-off are conducted in a respectful manner complete with final rites.

On the other extreme, the burials of the lowly or those considered to be on the lower rungs of Kenya’s social ladder are treated to a near-dehumanising, minutes-long affair where their departed are rushed from hospital to morgue to interment even before the mourners’ first tears hit the ground.

Shallow grave

It has been heart breaking for families.

In April, 59-year-old James Oyugi died from what health officials said were Covid-19 related complications.

Almost 24 hours after his death, public health officials collected his body from the hospital ward where he died, put it a body bag and loaded it onto a pick-up truck and drove to the family home late in the night. They found a shallow grave that the family had started digging and hurled the body in it. There was no coffin.

Some of the children of the deceased, navigating a night curfew, got to their father’s grave later on that Easter Sunday only to be told that the burial was over. There were no funeral proceedings.

But this perceived coldness and inhumane treatment of the dead ought not to have been.

In May, after the debacle in Siaya, Afya House battled the bad publicity and even toyed with the idea of exhuming the body so that a proper reburial could take place. This would have entailed going to court and obtaining a court order, conducting a public ceremony to set precedence for Covid-19 burials.

Decorum

The plan was however dropped at some point after top ministry officials vetoed it. Instead, a team led by Acting Director General of Health Dr Patrick Amoth and Government Spokesman was dispatched to Siaya to talk to the community and the area leadership.

After Oyugi, many others have been buried in similar fashion yet a few, with perceptions of sitting higher up the social ladder have had the Covid-19 related burials handled with a bit more decorum and with minimal rush from the State.

On Thursday, the secretary-general of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Peter Kariuki Kania was buried in a graceful manner in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, in a ceremony attended by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Deputy President William Ruto.

He did not suffer the indignity of a rushed ceremony, a wrapped up coffin and the constant fumigation of the coffin as has been witnessed in other burials. In between Oyugi and Rev Kania, the burials have lacked rhythm, oscillating between theatrics and the absurd.

In death, as in life, Covid-19 continues to expose our vulnerabilities.


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