Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo introduced funeral homes in Kenya but chose cremation when St Peter finally makes his roll call
By Mbatia wa Njambi
The City Mortuary in Nairobi had no competition. For the better part of 65 years, it was the only one in the grave business of handling stiffs. That was until Attorney General Charles Njonjo-who has never used matatus in his life- feared dying and being preserved there alongside pimps, pastors, prostitutes, pagans and not a few chicken thieves, fornicators and recipients of mob justice.
And so it goes, when Njonjo was chair of the Nairobi Hospital, he mooted the idea of a funeral home fit for a Prince of the blood like himself.
Njonjo approached John Lee, an experienced coroner and that was how the Lee Funeral Home was established in 1987, the year famed criminal lawyer, S.M. Otieno died and his widow, the late Wambui Otieno was entangled in a seven month long burial dispute, the bus stop next to City Mortuary was nicknamed ‘Stage ya SM.”
Despite being a millionaire many times over, his body was lying on the floor at the City Mortuary next to burglars
Njonjo, like most Kenyans was following the proceedings and the reality that he could die and be stuffed with cotton at the City Mortuary so shivered him, today, his portrait hangs at the Lee Funeral Home as a pointer to his business foresight.
Kenya now has many funeral homes courtesy of the over 100 year old Njonjo-who funny enough chose cremation when St Peter finally makes his roll call.
Before then, the rich and famous were all refrigerated at the City Mortuary whose litany of complaints ran from overcrowding, malfunctioning cold room machines, broken fridge handles and worn out temperature gauges.
Jomo Kenyatta’s body is “cleaned up” including a change of suits at the City Mortuary
With more funeral homes opening in the country, the City Mortuary gradually began facing stiff competition that won’t die anytime soon.
Dr David Wanjohi, Head of City Mortuary, laments that customers have dwindled from 30 a day since he joined in 1993 when “they could not fit in our fridges and would be all over the floor,” he told Business Daily and the living were forced to “find alternative mortuaries or bury as fast as possible.”
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The City Mortuary currently averages five stiffs a day in the public wing and two in the private one and the competition eating Wanjohi’s lunch are private funeral homes including Lee, Montezuma, Umash, Chiromo Funeral Parlour and Kenyatta University Funeral Home.
Most Kenyans now prefer them for their convenience, extra facilities like chapels, ample parking and more professional, dignified services.
Kenyans now prefer funeral homes with a chapel, viewing bay, lounges, canteen, ample parking
From over 4000 bodies annually in 2016, Wanjohi says they currently handle slightly over 2000 stiffs. Also eating into profits are unclaimed bodies which are preserved, transported and buried at the City Mortuary’s expense due to negligence by police to take finger prints of victims and broken family ties in locating next of kin.
But the pandemic and restrictions of movement saw many opting for quick burials at Lang’ata Cemetery pushing number of bodies handled to between 120 and 170 a month since March 2020
City Mortuary cannot be closed as it’s the only place cops take unknown bodies
When all is said and buried, Wanjohi reckons the City Mortuary cannot be closed as it’s the only place cops can take unknown bodies. But what is still alive is that it will continue facing breathing competition from the likes of the ‘five star’ General Kago Funeral Home which cost Sh300 million to construct in Thika, Kiambu County, where it boasts of modern cold rooms, parking for 100 cars.