Why war heroes can no longer rest in peace at Eldoret European Cemetery

A grave filled with litter at the Eldoret European Cemetery that sits next to a residential area in Subaru estate on the outskirts of Eldoret town. 

Photo credit: Dennis Lubanga | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Most of the graves here are lying in ruins, abandoned and forgotten.
  • The cemetery is an eyesore, with many other graves vandalised, or worse, littered with rubbish.

Walking along the rows of graves offers a glimpse of the battles Kenya has fought and the foreign men and women who waged them.

Located on the eastern side of Eldoret town, the Eldoret European Cemetery lies about 3km north-east of the town centre.

The narrow track leading to the cemetery is set on the left side of the road, about 250 meters past Eldoret Prisons. This is where the remains of some veterans of the Second World War and the French War lie.

Other graves belong to the White settlers, pioneers of Eldoret town who owned large parcels of land in the region.

One would imagine that the war heroes who were buried here are resting in peace, but that does not seem to be the case given the cemetery's dilapidated state.

Most of the graves are lying in ruins, abandoned and forgotten. The cemetery is an eyesore, with many other graves vandalised, or worse, littered with rubbish.

Even livestock frequently graze on the cemetery's lush pasture.

When Nation visited the cemetery, only one grave appeared to be well-kept. That one grave belongs to Private Marange (number 14503), a French veteran who died on June 26, 1943.

A section of the Eldoret European Cemetery that sits next to a residential area in Subaru estate on the outskirts of Eldoret town in this picture taken on September 12, 2020.

Photo credit: Dennis Lubanga | Nation Media Group

This maintenance of this grave has been made possible by financial support from the Directorate of Heritage, Memory and Archives of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the defence mission of the French Embassy.

There is a bigger problem though - encroachment on the cemetery by private developers who are seeking to put up residential buildings.

“It is alarming that this ancient European cemetery has been neglected by the county government of Uasin Gishu. This is a heritage site that the county government should preserve. This land is likely to be grabbed by private investors. We don't know where the title deed is,” said Mr Kimutai Kirui, a human rights activist.

Mr Kirui, who is the Director of the Eldoret-based Centre Against Torture, urged the county government to surrender the cemetery to any institution wishing to preserve it.

Historic site

“If the county government of Uasin Gishu is unable to preserve this historic site, then it can surrender it to any institution, preferably a university, to preserve it for academic purposes and future generations,” said Mr Kirui.

“The mandate to preserve this cemetery falls squarely on the County Government of Uasin Gishu but we are shocked by its run down state. We don't know whose name is on the title deed. This land will be taken over within the next four to five years,” lamented Mr Kirui.

A section of the Eldoret European Cemetery that sits next to a residential area in Subaru estate on the outskirts of Eldoret town in this picture taken on September 12, 2020.

Photo credit: Dennis Lubanga | Nation Media Group

“There is so much interest in land. We have parcels that have been fenced off by the County Government. This one has been forgotten, yet it is a very prime land. We smell a rat here,” he added.

Mr Stephen Sorobit, a resident, said most of the graves in the cemetery belong to people deemed to be the pioneers of Eldoret town.

“The county needs to fence off this place. Some of the graves have been vandalised for scrap metal. We need to preserve the memory of all those who were buried here for the role they played in the establishment and development of this town,” he said.

A signpost to the Eldoret European Cemetery located 3 kilometres to the north-east of the town centre in this picture taken on September 12, 2020.

Photo credit: Dennis Lubanga | Nation Media Group

He further took issue with members of the public who have a habit of sitting on tombstones whenever they visit the cemetery, saying such behaviour is disrespectful of the dead.

Reached for comment, Uasin Gishu County Director of Culture Haji Dakane Mohamed and his Tourism counterpart Dr Margaret Aiyabei said the two departments are working closely with the national government in identifying and preserving such historical sites.

“We are currently working on a document that will enable us to identify all the heritage sites such as the Eldoret War Cemetery so that, together with the national government, we can preserve them," Dr Aiyabei.