An attempt to secretly bury 37 victims of post election arson attacks in Uasin Gishu in a mass grave aborted on Wednesday.
Angry relatives stormed Kiplombe public cemetery, five kilometres from Eldoret Town, where the burial was going on under heavy security. They demanded to know why they had not been informed.
It also emerged that provincial security officers were not aware of the ceremony that was being supervised by chief government pathologist Moses Njue and officials from the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital where the bodies have been preserved for more than a year.
The relatives expressed shock that the Government was trying to bury their loved ones without their knowledge. “This is the height of Government’s callousness,” a bitter Miss Regina Muthoni, who lost her mother Margaret Njau, said.
But Dr Njue said the measure was temporary, as the bodies would be exhumed once they had been identified and given to their families.
“This is actually not a burial ceremony, but a temporary resting place. The way we are doing it is not like a normal burial ceremony. Even the UN recognises this as a legitimate way of holding bodies,” he said.
However, his explanation failed to resonate: “Burial to us means putting a body into the ground and covering it with soil, which is being done now. The Government is simply trying to hoodwink us so it can dispose of our relatives behind our backs,” said Mr Joseph Githuku, who lost his wife and child at Kiambaa church.
Dr Njue did not have an answer on why the families had not been informed. He said: “I’m a pathologist and I came here to ensure the bodies do not mix. I can’t speak on behalf of other people.”
Pressed to explain who had given the order to bury the bodies, Dr Njue said: “I’m a simple civil servant who follows instructions, so do not crucify me. All I know is, this is not something that was decided upon the other day.”
He said preserving the bodies was no longer beneficial. “When a body begins to decay, there is simply no way to stop the process,” he said.
And Rift Valley PC Hassan Noor told the Nation : “I’m in the dark like you. I’m disappointed such a thing can be done without our knowledge. I’ve instructed officers to cease the exercise forthwith.”
The burial was stopped after district commissioner Leonard Ngaluma came, one hour after the exercise started. After making frantic calls for about 40 minutes, he declared that the exercise had been postponed. The bodies were later returned to the mortuary.
“This ceremony clearly goes against African customs. I’ve been ordered by the PC to stop the ceremony until another day,” he said, much to the relief of relatives.
But Miss Alice Mumbi, who lost a child, said she no longer trusted the Government. “Who knows what it will do next? We might just learn through the media that it has cremated them,” she said.
When the first relative arrived at the cemetery, more than 20 bodies, covered in white body bags had been lowered into the mass grave dug the previous day using a bulldozer. Police held back the grieving relatives wailing at the top of their voices, from viewing the grave. A bulldozer stood by, ready to cover the bodies.
“If there is no ill-motive, why did the Government send so many policemen to preside over a funeral?” Mr Githuku asked.
Dr Omar Ali, deputy director of MTRH said the measure was meant to relieve pressure on facilities at the referral hospital, much to the chagrin of the relatives.
“We have to remember MTRH is a government hospital but also a business organisation. The bodies were taking up a lot of space yet the hospital needs to make money from it,” he said.