In provincial towns and Kigali City the dead are claiming more land while the living are subtly losing it on the outskirts of expensive public cemeteries.
Rusororo cemetery in Kigali is currently doing expropriation on more than five hectares of land to supplement the twelve that were planned for the cemetery until 2029, but which proved insufficient a years before the anticipated time of getting full.
The same story is being told in small towns around the country and one of them is Kabarore in Gatsibo of Eastern Province. The two cemeteries they secured in 2010 are full and they are seeking five to ten hectares for a new cemetery.
Decent burial of our loved ones is traditionally cherished.
But people tend to forget, or ignore, another option of sending off loved ones provided for under the Rwandan Constitution: cremation.
Half a decade ago, parliament passed the law of cremation as an accepted form of burial, with the aim of saving land in a country where the population density is 415 inhabitants per square kilometre.
To date, not a single Rwandan is known to have been cremated. Instead, Rwandans have continued to seek space in filled up cemeteries and securing more chunks of land for public cemeteries.
Rutukura, Murama Cell, Nyamata Sector, Bugesera District in Eastern Province is the place where Indians in Rwanda incinerate their dead to ashes on a fenced plot of land of 43/50 metres, at most the equivalent of two residential plots in Kigali.
One of the residents of Murama, Sostène Nkundamahoro, who witnessed the incineration of an Indian body in August 2017, describes the exercise “too weird and horrible to be adopted by Rwandans.”
“I’m a Rwandan who has dreaded fire from my childhood and I can’t imagine reducing to ashes when I’m dead or burning one of my loved ones,” Nkundamahoro told The New Times.
Nkundamahoro suggests that “in case there is no land the natural burial in farms where there are no settlements could be welcome than to put bodies in ‘hell’.
“I would rather opt for the traditional burial where deep graves were used,” he said, adding that it would be better for a dead body to turn into manure than ashes.
Bugesera District mayor Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire, says they cannot dictate what the masses want.
“It’s upon the bereaved to decide the way they bury their loved ones and as for us as a district we have never taken any initiative of senstising people on cremation. We’re waiting for the time when Rwandans themselves will decide for themselves,” said Nsanzumuhire.
Rusororo cemetery burial prices go as high as Rwf600,000 while cremation in the Indians’ Bugesera Cemetery takes only wood substances that increase the temperatures of wood for incineration.
One of the Indians living in Rwanda, Vinay Krishna, who works at Nyagatare Agro-ventures in Eastern Province, says the Indians practice cremation because it is in their culture.
“Cremation has been practiced by Indians as a norm not a law or for economising land for thousands of years,” says Krishna.
MP Ngabo Semahundo, the chairperson for the parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs, says the legislature passed cremation as one of the accepted ways of burial not to undermine culture.
“Parliamentarians know Rwandans respect the dead. The law was passed to give space for even a single individual who may want to do cremation because we know land isn’t in abundance or affordable for everyone,” he told The New Times.
Using the rate at which Rusororo cemetery is filling up, Kigali city is in need of more than 12 hectares for cemetery every 5 years.
By 2050, leaving all factors constant, a minimum of 60 hectares of Kigali City land will have been claimed by the dead, a chunk of land more than three times bigger than the whole perimeter of Amahoro Stadium.