Shame of Lang’ata Cemetery without a working toilet

Langata Cemetery

 The only toilet at Lang'ata Cemetery pictured on February 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

The entrance to Nairobi's Lang’ata Cemetery is a hive of activity. Mourners dressed in black arrive in droves to say goodbye to their loved ones.

The unguarded entrance, a rickety gate in faded white and blue, welcomes you to Nairobi's largest cemetery, covering some 120 acres. Looking around the entrance, one wonders if it is more of a ceremonial gate.

The huge cemetery can be accessed from any point as it is not entirely fenced. Only the part along Langata Road has a shrub and chain link fence. The rest of the cemetery is left open with a few concrete pillars standing, probably used to build the fence.

There is a sombre mood in every footstep, every breath, but the aura of abandonment that is synonymous with death is palpable in the cemetery.

The Nation visited the cemetery after receiving complaints from mourners about the poor state of toilet facilities within the cemetery.

 The only toilet at Lang'ata Cemetery pictured on February 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Visitors arriving at the cemetery for the first time may mistake the containers at the gate for toilets. However, a lady in the office turns us away when we tell her we want to use the toilets. She informs us that this is the office of the Mugumoini Member of the County Assembly and that the toilet in the office is not open to the public. Instead, she directs us to the far left corner.

As we walk through the cemetery, the sense of urgency is palpable. We meet a group of mourners who are also looking for the toilet and we follow them. On the way, however, we got lost, until a cookie vendor pointed out a green building in the distance.

"It's a bit far, but you have to walk until you see a green building with a black tank on top," Ms Eva Kawira, a vendor, tells us.

True to her words, we finally arrive at the dilapidated building that serves as a toilet. A faded sign on the building indicates that it belongs to the "Nairobi City Council".

A visitor must pay Sh10 to the attendant before receiving toilet paper. It is also painted in green and yellow colours, but the paint is faded, indicating that it was painted a long time ago. There are also a few men and women cutting glass at the graves near the toilet.

According to the Nairobi City County Flag and Symbols Act 2013, the yellow colour used in the painting symbolises "the forward thinking and leadership position of Nairobi City County within the region and the African continent". It also symbolises the "prosperity and hope that the County offers to its residents". The green colour on the other side symbolises "a new dawn for the city's residents where prosperity thrives".

A second look at the toilets, however, makes one feel cheated, if the colour symbols above are anything to go by. There are only three stalls in the men's toilet, and none of them has running water.

A blue water tank at the edge of the toilets with a transparent jug is all that is available for mourners to clean the toilets after use.

Lang'ata Cemetery

The only toilet at Lang'ata Cemetery pictured on February 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Some of the sinks inside the toilets also appear to have been vandalised, and the three urinals directly opposite the toilets do not have running water. They also appear to have changed colour from white to yellow due to continuous use with little cleaning.

The walls and roof of the toilets are discoloured, with stains on the walls and ceilings due to water damage that appears to be leaking into the toilets from the roof and side walls.

A few elderly men entering the toilet were overheard complaining about the poor condition of the toilets.

"Nothing seems to work here. How much will it cost to just fix this toilet?" one of them asks.

A few minutes later we meet the man who identifies himself as Simon Kuria. He had come to the cemetery to bury his close friend.

He tells us that the location of the toilet was problematic because he had to walk a long way to find it.

"We were at the far end of the cemetery and walking all that way is hectic considering my age. There is no other toilet where we can go for a quick call. But again, the toilet looks really bad. You wonder why you walked all the way to such a sight," Mr Kuria tells the Nation.

By all standards, he argues, if such a toilet were in a hotel in Nairobi, the county health inspectorate would have ordered it closed and the owner arrested. But this seems to be a case of talking out of both sides of one's mouth. The toilet has been in this state for a long time.

It is also the only toilet in the cemetery that serves the hundreds of Christian mourners who come here for funeral rites. Coincidentally, a quick Google search for Lang’ata Cemetery brings up a picture of the dilapidated toilet as the top result. An influx of mourners into the toilet means that some have to wait outside before they can use the facility.

Langata cemetery

A view of Lang'ata Cemetery on February 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

According to Ms Agnes Wanjiru, a vendor at the cemetery, the only toilet available in the cemetery is located in the Muslim cemetery and is for use by Muslims only.

"Sometimes, mourners who are on the other side of the cemetery go near the bushes for short calls. This is normal. It is because of the distance from here to the Kanjo toilet," she says.

The Nairobi City County government, which oversees the facility through the County Chief Officer in charge of Public Health, Tom Nyakaba, says the county is doing all it can to ensure that Nairobi residents are treated with the dignity they deserve.

"We have made a lot of improvements at the cemetery to ensure that Nairobians are treated with dignity. We are currently deploying the Green Army to clean and mow the cemetery daily to ensure that people are buried with dignity in line with the Governor's vision of a city of order and dignity," said Mr Nyakaba.