Wednesday, July 15, 2009




By Winsley Masese

Trees at the late Joshua Okuthe’s compound sway violently in the wind as if to affirm the sad news. Save for chirping little birds perched on the siala trees, the compound is deathly quiet.

Unlike the traditional commotion that accompanies mourning of a person of high status among the Luo community, such as Okuthe, it is evident something is badly wrong as everyone grieves in silence with only tears streaming down their cheeks indicating that a loved one has died.

They wailed only once, the day news broke that their son, a renowned sports administrator Joshua Hardy Okuthe, had mysteriously died after collapsing at a restaurant in Nairobi, said a relative.

On the day The Standard visited his home at Tamu village in Muhoroni,

Okuthe’s elder brother, Willis Okuthe, had just arrived from Nairobi where he had been expected to deliver the news on when the burial would be.

Instead, he brought the ‘unbelievable’ news. Joshua’s body was not at the mortuary. It was feared it might have been secretly cremated.

The village is in shock. Village elders have been holding impromptu meetings to analyse the consequences of such an outcome and its believed effect on the family and clan of Okuthe.

Yesterday, a group of Okuthe’s relatives, led by his cousin, Bob Okoth broke down the door to his rural house, which had been locked.

Okoth said they would invite elders from the clan to decide what should be done, adding that a church service was being planned in the home for next week.

Elderly women cursed and invoked the names of their ancestors as younger ones held their chins in shock.

"God forbid! How can they burn such a prominent man? Why, what did he do to them?" asked an old woman, identified only as Mama Selemiah.

"Is it true that his body was burnt (sic)?" another elder woman inquired.

Willis simply stared at the mourners in disbelief as he led them to Joshua’s compound.

"Look at this land and house! Why cremate him when only six feet down the ground is all he needed?" he posed emotionally.

The imposing bungalow Okuthe built appears to solemnly stare at the villagers as they walk up and down in disbelief.

Joseph Otieno, 45, a relative, offers: "We wanted to view his body, but we are shocked to learn of his cremation, is it true?"

George Onyango, a neighbour, said: "How can we know he died unless we view his body?" posed Onyango, a neighbour.

Willis said that no known family member was present during the cremation done by Okuthe’s first wife, Ruth Florence Okuthe, and described the act as, ‘abominable, out of the ordinary and clandestine’.

Willis said Joshua’s family members were in Nairobi and why they were not involved in the whole plan begs for answers.

Committee meeting

He said the committee organising Okuthe’s funeral had met at his Lavington home on Tuesday last week, two days after he died.

"This is when his wife mentioned the idea of having the body cremated. She claimed Joshua had shared the idea with her," said Willis.

"But she did not dialogue with us to reach a conclusion since Okuthe had family members who could have participated in the matter," an angry Willis said.

Willis said they all agreed to meet at the mortuary for post-mortem the following day, then move to All Saints Cathedral where a memorial service was planned.

"But when we arrived at the mortuary we were told the body had been removed. We were told later it had been cremated. We did not see the post-mortem report. We don’t know even if the body was cremated or taken somewhere," Willis said.

Ruth has been unavailable for comment since. Second wife Khadija Okuthe said she tried to bar the cremation by going to court, only to find the body removed from the mortuary when she returned with a court order.

The family, led by Willis, has written to the Commissioner of Police asking him to order a full investigation ‘into the whereabouts of the body"

But a senior police officer who confirmed the letter has been received, said if a post-mortem was done and the first of kin had every right to dispose of the body.

"There is no criminal intent so far unless a formal complaint is filed, which would be investigated," said the senior officer, who did not want to be named.

Willis said his brother is among very few from the Luo community to be cremated, arguing: "We will meet and decide what to do if the ashes are brought for burial."

"We do not know a member of this community who was cremated so we don’t know what to do," Willis, Joshua’s elder brother, said.

He, however, said they would still want it proved that the ashes are of the late sports administrator. "If we get the wrong ashes, it would be an abomination," he told The Standard.

Memorial service

Plans are being made for a memorial service, said Willis, adding: "Joshua was an Anglican and we will liaise with the clergy and the bishop and have tributes about his life read."

"We will invite the Luo Council of Elders and dialogue on the next course of action," he said.

"But we are contemplating taking a legal action against the cremation," he said.

"We are still optimistic we shall get his ashes, if it is true he was cremated. We will then bury the ashes but will not do any thing traditional that goes against Joshua’s Christian faith," said Willis.

The family had gone to court to challenge the cremation by a court injunction only to realise that it was too late.

Willis said Joshua had promised to call him that evening and when his phone rung, he thought the deceased was calling.

"I did not know that I was to be informed of his death," he says.

As the eldest in the family, Willis had travelled to Nairobi on Monday, after the death of Joshua, to take charge of preparation for burial.

He found the body at The Mater Hospital mortuary and when suggestion was made to move it to another mortuary, he had no objection.

"I did not want to change what they had planned to with the body since it is known that bodies are preserved in morgues," he argued.

On the day of the Mass at the All Saints Cathedral, Willis says the one assigned to read his eulogy, reading mischief into the affair."