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Past haunts Kisumu as city runs out of burial space

Kisumu City is courting a unique sort of trouble. While other metropolis are running out of ordinary things such as fresh water, motorable roads and fresh air, the lakeside town has also run out of space to bury the dead.

Both the Christian and Muslim public cemeteries in Mamboleo and Bandani areas are filled to capacity and workers are forced to dig up older graves to bury the freshly departed.

Muslim cemetery caretaker Juma Musa says the graveyard located near Kisumu Airport on Kisumu-Busia road is full to capacity. Photo/DANIEL OGENDO

A fast growing population, poor planning and corruption in the now defunct Kisumu municipal council have come full circle into a crisis several years later.

Landowners in Manyatta, Nyamasaria and Nyalenda have now identified a great business opportunity, renting out a space for burying the dead at an annual cost of Sh3,000 and Sh15,000 for a child and a grown up, respectively.

The civic authority sold the earlier cemetery land next to Makasembo estate to private developers, who have since put up modern houses on the land.

The council later identified a parcel sandwiched between private homesteads and quarries but communities living near the cemetery are not willing to let go their lands for the expansion.

Mzee Maina Kiaye, who has worked as a grave digger at the cemetery for eight years, admits that the remaining space is not enough to cater for the huge population.

“The remaining space is full of rocks and digging is very difficult and can even take weeks. Most people are forced to seek alternatives,” he said. “It’s only easy to get space for burying children because they don’t require a larger space,” he adds.

According to the last national population census, the population of Kisumu stood at 1, 068,826. Although the Luo community who prefer to bury their kin in their ancestral homes is the majority, there is a big percentage from other tribes whose only option is the public cemeteries.

And at the main Kisumu Muslim cemetery in Bandani, the situation is even worse. The seven-acre cemetery that has been in existence since 1940s is completely full.

Juma Musa, who has dug more than 4,000 graves, says he sometimes finds bones and decomposing bodies while digging new graves.

“It is normal for me now because there is no space and we must bury,” he says. According to Kisumu county deputy governor Mathews Owili, the county is yet to secure a place for new cemeteries.

“We know the population has overgrown and we are looking into the matter but a solution will be found soon,” he said.

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