Resistance to cremation worries govt as cemeteries run out of space

Saturday April 15 2023
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The government is encouraging communities to embrace cremation to reduce land allocated for cemeteries. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA


Resistance to cremation as a burial alternative is giving the government sleepless nights as public cemeteries fill up fast around the country.

A decade later since a law was passed in 2013 to introduce cremation as one of the methods of disposing of bodies, Rwandans are yet to adopt it. Rwandans are still averse to the rite and has ended up discouraging companies from investing in cremation facilities.

“We face a challenge of cultural mindset as cremation is a new practice in the Rwandan society, people still prefer ordinary burial to cremation.”

“We gradually talk about this to raise awareness of the importance of this alternative due to land scarcity which also affects the cost of ordinary burial,” read a statement from the Ministry of Local Government in response to the issue.

The ministry also said the acute scarcity of cremation facilities has made the service very expensive and beyond the reach even for those who might be interested.

“So far cremation of a dead body is a costly service, as government, we are still encouraging private investors to envisage this opportunity,” the ministry added. In Rwanda, cremation can only be carried out at the Hindu Mandal Crematorium in Bugesera district-40km from Kigali, and it charges up to Rwf500,000 per body, and mostly preferred by foreigners.


In addition, all bodies are buried in a cemetery, and with an estimated 300,000 deaths in the country every year, the land gazetted for cemeteries is filling up fast posing a challenge for the government.

There are 1,439 cemeteries across the country, but many of these have been filling up and local government authorities keep expanding the cemetery land which also fills up.

“What is obvious is that Rwanda has small land and cemeteries are quickly widening due to the way people bury, the solution would be effective management” “And that management means the use of ordinary tombs so that we can reuse the land after 10 years and also the adoption of cremation as an alternative though the latter seems to work on snail’s pace” said the Ministry of Local Government.

The law provides that the land occupying the current cemeteries will be put up for redevelopment, and this is the case because the country can’t afford to lose all those chunks of land.

“The cemetery with ordinary tombs may be closed 10 years after the last burial to be used for another purpose, while for a special tomb this will only be done after 20 years from the date the tomb was last buried in” said the Ministry.

Rusororo, the biggest cemetery on the suburbs of Kigali, has been expanded several times, which has been the case for other cemeteries. Besides saving on the land taken up by cemeteries, by legalising cremation government intended to ease on the burden of the high cost of burying the dead that families struggle with.

It was expected that many companies invest in cremation service.