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The Desecration of Sanctity – Pathetic Conduct at Funerals

By Matunda Nyanchama

January 14, 2016

A funeral is the final opportunity that family, relatives, friends and community have to say final goodbyes to their deceased loved one. It is supposed to be a solemn occasion to remember the good that the departed did and the impact s/he had on others. It is a time to come to terms with the new reality: life without the departed!

Funerals are difficult times for loved ones, especially the immediate family. They are times of sorrow for the community, especially for those people touched by the life of the departed. People of good standing usually attract large numbers of mourners who come in solidarity with the bereaved. Typically, one’s standing in the community can be gauged from the number of people in attendance at one’s funeral.  And that is the way it should be.

It is for this reason that people should hold and conduct themselves in tune with the solemn occasion that a funeral should be.

In Kenya, however, we seem to have turned all such protocol matters on the head! Politicians are the culprits! Knowing they have a captive audience, these people (politicians and the politician wannabees) stretch funeral programme long beyond meaningful mourning. Indeed, some even forget to say their poles to the family and run straight into political jugular.


I recently attended the funeral of a close relative and friend. He was an accomplished, self-made success and community person, a matter demonstrated by the multitudes of people that came to mourn him. It was a life cut short by a road accident that marked the end of the road for a man with an even greater future ahead.

I watched as family members struggled to accommodate community (nay political!) rituals that ended up stretching too far. I saw self-aggrandisement in action as politicians and politician wannabees paraded themselves (one by one) muttering things about who they are and their political ambitions.

With the 2017 General Elections in the horizon, the funeral gave the chance to this political class to parade themselves, showcase those aligned with them and ensure that each of these (some that are truly non-entities and nonstarters) had a chance to “greet” the people! “Greeting the people” meant addressing them!

County officials were even worse, parading each and every Tom, Dick and Harry that worked in their departments. Even the governor and his entourage duly paraded along, making speeches and even making policy pronouncements that had little to do with the funeral!

What a shame!

Listening to all their crap, few of them sent condolences even as they jostled to be introduced. It looked like their names and what they deemed themselves to be, was music to their ears. In reality, what they uttered amounted to sweet nothings! True crap!

In all this, there was little sense of empathy or mercy in their expressions as the occasion would demand.

I kept wondering whether these intruders were aware of the torture they were putting the family through. I kept asking whether they empathized with those who had travelled long distances and wanted an early start back to their homes after the funeral!

The level of insensitivity was astounding!

Imagine this!

Three days prior to the funeral, family, relatives and close friends had come to Nairobi to collect the body of the deceased. This was done amidst funeral planning and fundraising to meet timelines and funeral expenses.

Two days before the funeral, they embarked on the long distance journey home to be ready for interment. This is an arduous trip of tested patience and uncertainty!

Then a day before the funeral, there was a send-off mass at the place the departed lived. It was followed by another long road trip to the home (and final resting place) of the deceased. On arrival at home, there was yet another full mass attended by the community!

And now came the day of the funeral that started early in the morning. The family was ready for the funeral service before 9:00 am. And now they had to be dragged through a litany of extraneous political and nonsensical showmanship that, for all intents and purposes, had little to do with mourning the deceased!  And know what? The charade ran past 5:00 pm before burial took place.

I watched all this as the family struggled to stay calm! It was a trial of patience for many relatives, family and friends, especially those that had travelled from distant places such as Mombasa, Nairobi, Nyeri, etc. They had come to pay last respects and expected to see their loved one laid to rest before embarking on journey back home. Many had to leave before this happened!


It is a failure of the political process that politics is diverted to funerals. And yes, I am aware, politicos typically drool at the sight of crowds. Gone are the times when political and administrative leaders could convene meetings and barazas to make pronouncements. I guess that politics has sunk so low that if anyone called such meetings such as those of yore, hardly any people would turn up.

I am told that this did not come as an accident. Back in the 1960s, President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had a severe political fallout with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. As the former partners went their own ways, Jaramogi was banned from convening and addressing public meetings. He then cleverly resorted to what was possible: funerals. Here, he would be given a chance to “greet” the people. Cunningly, he would use the few minutes offered to make pronouncements which were usually coated in parables but understood by the crowd!  … and now, it has become a norm!

It is a shame that we continue the practice even when there are constitutional guarantees of freedom, where anyone can call and address a meeting as the need may be. However, to get there, the current political trend must change towards restoring respect and dignity of leadership, including political leadership! Such dignified leaders would take politics out of funerals and when they want to do politics, they would do political rallies.

Only then can we restore the needed sanctity of funerals.


Dr. Matunda Nyanchama is an ICT Consultant and Book Publisher; he can be reached at 


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