Tuesday, July 23, 2013



By Alex Kamau
The only things certain in life are death and taxes (Benjamin Franklin- American Statesman).

The last two years have witnessed the deaths of prominent Kenyans notably Michuki, Karume, Saitoti, Ojode, Okuta and now Senator Mutula Kilonzo SC. Their funerals bar one were graced by presidential attendance.

Mutula has been eulogized in acres of print and electronic media and it’s not my purpose to repeat what others have said so eloquently including those who have spoken and written movingly about him.

Opening the obituary pages of Kenyan newspapers provides a precise prediction of the social and economic backgrounds of the dead; with the well-off generally occupying bigger spaces; while the poor bury their dead incognito- often unable to afford radio announcements.

While showing respect to the dead is a universal practice that transcends cultures, we must reject as despicable lavish spending on funerals. Is it not hypocritical that there are Kenyans willing to spend 100,000 shillings to bury a parent they were reluctant to offer a few hundred shillings to buy food and medicines while they were alive? Why waste on the dead money the living desperately need?

Time has arrived for Kenyans to ask how long spending so much on funerals especially those of public figures can continue. The well-off Kenyans-many of them politicians, former politicians and their families need to set an example by declining funeral donations from the impoverished public. It should become an emblem of honor that funeral costs for the rich and mighty are met by their estate and family. They could alternatively offer such donations to charity and it must be welcomed that the Mutula family bequeathed the collection made at his requiem service towards the charitable foundation he set.

A Kenyan society free of the greed of the rich is better placed to support its weakest and most vulnerable.

Yes the dead shall always be with us but Kenyans must question how much funerals shall cost, especially the cost to the taxpayer of burying public figures. It is unfair for the government to always pledge to help the families of the rich and the powerful on their deaths. Most don’t need help since while in office they made and stole from the taxpayer more than they or their families need-and in death must not expect the same taxpayer to pay their final earthly bill. With a burgeoning governance structure, we shall have more politicians to bury in the future. As with their salaries while alive; the already burdened Kenyan taxpayer can’t afford their lavish funerals.

By conservative estimates, burying Mutula may have cost the Kenyan economy and taxpayer in excess of 100 million shillings, which would have paid for a modern school in the county he devotedly represented. This figure isn’t outrageous. The funeral-over two days and streamed live on national television was attended by the elite in government, parliament and senate, the judiciary, Governors and top corporates, conservatively about 400 of these. Each with their near 1 million salaries –and individual driver and security- and spouses would have probably cost 50,000 shillings per day; totaling 40 million (Kshs. 50,000x400 x 2days) paid mainly by the taxpayer. Their attendance no doubt resulted in cascading costs to the economy and the taxpayer by way of delayed decisions and lost revenue.  Adopting a reverse multiplier to a factor of 3 results in a staggering 120 million shillings. Include ordinary Kenyans in attendance and the figure surges further.

Remember last month, the president and much of the political leadership attended the funeral of Okuta, the KNUT secretary - at similar cost. When one considers the cost and arrangements needed for the presidential entourage and elite, one appreciates why our attitudes towards funerals must change. We have IDPS, pregnant women at Pumwani maternity who have to struggle to pay 50 shillings to have any hope of a less traumatic child birth. Why should the taxpayer shoulder 100 million shillings to bury one Kenyan?

Interesting research shows that lavish funeral spending is consistent with poorer and corrupt countries. Even amongst immigrant communities in Europe and America, lavish funeral spending closely mirror immigrants with inferior economic and social progress in their host countries. Indeed the poorer a country or region is, the more likely that a greater proportion of its meager resources are dispensed towards burying their dead. Well known to Kenyans is that lavish funeral spending and feasting is associated with poorer communities and retrogressive practices that condemn them to avoidable poverty. Why hold endless meetings in city hotels to raise money for one off expenditure on the dead? Would the 14 million raised for Mutula’s funeral by leaders led by billionaires Raila Odinga and Charles Njonjo not have been better used to feed the hungry mouths in the part of the country Mutula came from; where we have in the past read of people feeding on dead dogs on account of starvation? Why does someone who could afford Kshs.700,000 a month to feed lions and other predators need financial help for burial? I suspect Mutula would have been disgusted by such a deceitful and shameless gesture.

It should prick our conscience that at a time of diminishing resources, more from those with so little should go to cater for the dead, while the living languish for lack of the basics. There should be collective national revulsion about the morality of lavish spending on funerals.
We surely must optimise our limited resources to maximise life-not glorify death.

Alex Kamau is a Kenyan working as a lecturer in London.akkamotho@yahoo.co.uk