News 2008


Familiesí dilemma over bodies

February 16, 2008


By Antony Gitonga

The wooden door is partly ajar and a childís screams can be heard from within.

Inside, a woman lies motionless on the floor with blood gushing out of her mouth. A six-month-old baby is perched on a nearby bed in the single-room house.

The cries of the child, which have now turned hoarse, finally attract the attention of a passer-by.

A few metres from the house, more than 10 people including children are burning in a house. A lone teenager with a leaking bucket tries to put out the fire. But his efforts are fruitless.

These were some of the scenes in Naivasha town following the post-election chaos that rocked the town on January 27.

For Dennis Owino, screams from his neighbourís house saved his life. His wife was not spared though. She was butchered as he watched from a latrine where he was hiding.

"This is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life and I pray to God that nothing like that happens again," he says.

Even as the reality of the loss sinks in, affected families face a new problem.

Many unclaimed bodies lie in the mortuary as hundreds of displaced families leave the dusty town of Naivasha.

There are more than 45 bodies of the victims of post-election violence at the district hospital mortuary.

"At the moment, I am thinking of my next meal and how to get out of this place before I die too," says Owino.

He adds: "I donít know what to do since I donít have a penny to transport my wifeís body to Suba," he says.

Owino is not alone. Many families face a similar dilemma. They are not sure what to do with bodies stacked in the mortuary.

Mzee Abednego Okumu, whose sonís body is also in the mortuary, cannot imagine leaving it behind.

"In my culture, the dead must be buried in their ancestral land.

Plantation workers

"Even if it takes months, I will ensure the body is taken to rest in Suba," says Okumu.

According to the Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU), half of the dead are either plantation workers or their relatives.

"Majority of those affected are workers who live in Naivasha town and Karagita estate. We urge the Government to help us transport the bodies home for burial," says Mr Peter Otieno, the local KPAWU secretary-general.

He adds that it is unrealistic for employers to expect workers to display maximum productivity when bodies of their relatives are in the morgue.

Otieno further urged MPs whose constituents are affected to assist.

"We are not sure whether the Government will assist, so we urge our leaders to lend a hand," he says.

Hospital officials lament that the mortuary facilities are overstretched.

The morgue, which has a capacity of 12 bodies, currently holds 78.

"The situation is bad as we have run out of space," says Dr Peter Okoth, the medical superintendent at the hospital. Okoth says the situation poses a health hazard.

He says most bodies were mutilated or burnt, making it hard to identify them.

"The problem might take longer as some bodies might require tests to establish their identity," he says.

The medic says some relatives of the victims have fled, leaving the bodies behind.

The problem is worsened by the flight of some staff, including doctors and nurses.

There is only one mortuary attendant, after his colleague fled the town when things got out of hand.

A visit by the Saturday Standard to the hospital found the bodies piled on top of each other.

A heavy stench emanated from the chambers despite efforts by the staff to clean the place.

According to hospital regulations, uncollected bodies are supposed to be disposed of after 21 days.

"But we cannot do that as we know what befell the relatives. We have to give them ample time to make arrangements," says Okoth.

Other mourners collecting bodies also have a hard time, since there is only that attendant to serve them.

"We have been here for several hours and we are yet to collect the body," says a mourner.