Kenya: Lamu residents protest against land grabbing in centuries-old cemetery

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A cemetery that is said to be over 700 years old in the old town of Lamu is at risk of being seized by private developers.

The 10-acre Mkomani Cemetery in Wiyoni was initially a cemetery for the family of Maalim Ahmed Bin Ali, well known as Ramadan, who later donated it to the Muslim community of Lamu to bury their dead.

The cemetery is run by members of the community including Said Ahmed Kirume, Mohamed Said, Khuzema Mohamed Abderehman, Abu Athman Changu, Ahmed Sagaf and Abdullatif Bwanamkuu.

The invaders built permanent and semi-permanent structures on the cemetery grounds. Nation.Africa saw bushes being cleared to prepare a construction site on Wednesday.

Mr Kirume, the cemetery supervisor and administrator, said several hectares of the cemetery land had already been seized.

He called on county officials and regional leaders to reclaim the stolen land and build a perimeter wall around the cemetery to protect it from grabbers.

“As you can see, the people are determined to continue encroaching on this cemetery land. They are not discouraged. They have already encroached on over two acres,” he said.

“Our ancestors were buried here. It is also the only cemetery that still has enough space to bury the dead in Lamu Town. Space will be missed if these invaders continue to build their structures here.”

He added that the invaders took advantage of the fact that part of the cemetery land has no title deed.

Mr. Changu, who is part of the Mkomani cemetery committee, expressed disappointment that the people who live next to the cemetery are among those who attempt to encroach upon it.

“These residents built houses with windows facing the cemetery. They even turned the open space into a passage. Something must be done urgently to protect and preserve this century-old cemetery,” Changu said.

Members of the cemetery committee had raised concerns about the encroachment to the relevant authorities, but no action had been taken, Said said.

He accused some local politicians of being behind the land grab.

“These invaders are mostly local residents. The courage they show is a clear indication that some political leaders are inciting them,” he said.

“The committee has started to build a perimeter wall to secure the grounds of the cemetery. I call on Governor Fahim Twaha, our MPs, our representative, the senator and the MCA to help us on this point.”

When asked why the centuries-old cemetery had not been declared a national heritage site, officials from Kenya’s national museums said the required verification of its history had not been carried out.

“I cannot deny the likelihood that the Mkomani cemetery in Wiyoni is one of the oldest cemeteries that have existed here for centuries,” said Mohamed Ali, culture historian of Lamu museums.

“We need time to involve archaeologists to undertake carbon dating. If all of this is verified, then it can be considered one of the national monuments found here.”


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