Violence in the home has taken a dramatic twist: an ever-increasing number of husbands are dying at the hands of their wives.
Traditionally, the husbands had the monopoly of the violence at home, brutalising their spouses and often maiming or killing them.
Now women — out of frustration in unhappy marriages, anger for being mistreated or a desire to control family wealth — have brutally turned the tables on their men.
The murder rate in Kenya is rising: 1,749 murders were reported between January and November this year, up from 1,557 over the same period last year — 12.3 per cent up.
Many of those killings are unresolved—a lot of them fall in the template of the motorist who was waylaid at his gate or elsewhere, shot dead and nothing stolen. In some cases, the killings are executions procured by persons men assumed were dearest and closest to them.
Greed is a powerful motive in cases of family violence. For instance, a woman was jailed in August for the brutal killing of her husband in Nairobi’s Garden Estate in 2009, for which she paid the executioners a paltry Sh30,000.
Investigations revealed that Sh45 million—calculated as Mr Moses Gituma’s benefits, payable to the next of kin for his services at Central Bank of Kenya, where he worked—was at stake. He had listed his wife as the key beneficiary.
In other incidents, men and women have killed their spouses in brutal cases of domestic violence, which, police say, have become widespread and worrying.
When High Court Judge Nicholas Ombija jailed Mrs Janet Gituma for 30 years on August 26, he told her: “There is no doubt that you chose to kill a person. Since choices have consequences, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”
FILED AN APPEAL
Gituma has filed an appeal to contest the conviction.
Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo says most cases investigated show it is women who are hiring executioners to kill their men, although some men were found to have contracted gangs to kill their wives.
Besides wealth, he says, detectives have also investigated cases where killings are driven by “cultural beliefs”.
“If you look at the homicides, more cases have been reported this year in comparison to last year. Some of them are as a result of domestic matters, maybe by hired gangs or domestic violence.”
Mr Kimaiyo says the extent to which spouses are responsible for killing each other requires further research.
“Whether they are rampant or not cannot be immediately established. We would require a comprehensive research by analysts. This especially would be the case where investigators are yet to unearth the motive of some of the reported murders.
“This is because murder cases take long to investigate and they are normally executed by people who have planned over a long time, doing everything possible to cover their tracks,” the police boss says.
That is the crux of the matter: there is a pile of unresolved cases of killings, making it relatively “safe” for a spouse to choose the execution route to resolve family issues.
In the widely-publicised case of Faith Wairimu Maina, the suspect told the court that she had arranged to kill her husband because he was basically no good.
She later recanted her confession and her husband, Mr John Muthee Guama, said he had forgiven her, The case was dropped.
Wairimu had told the court that there were “long-running domestic problems,” and that was why she sought the services of a killer gang, but police got wind of it, posed as gangsters and arrested her.
“It is true I conspired to kill him because he has been beating me and not paying school fees for the children. I am everything in the house; his only work is to drink and move around with other women,” Wairimu said in court.
In other cases, spouses and children get killed in fits of rage.
The officer in charge of Gender Issues and Children Welfare at the Police Headquarters, Ms Beatrice Nduta, says: “Hardly two weeks pass without a case of deadly domestic violence being reported.”
The deaths, usually listed by police as homicides, result from violent arguments between a husband and his wife before deteriorating into physical fights that involve weapons like kitchen knives and pangas.
“We were not used to these reports before. And it’s not only the husband or wife who get killed; children have also died and its very unfortunate,” she says.
The annual crime report released by Mr Kimaiyo last week read in part: “Domestic violence was manifested by either wife or husbands poisoning or setting fire on their homes after killing the whole family. These can be attributed to high levels of poverty, deeply ingrained beliefs about gender roles and marriage, abuse of drugs, culture, among others.”
The report says such incidents could be reduced by administration officials, including chiefs, and suggested it be done through barazas with the agenda being “marriage awareness programmes” in collaboration with recognised counselling institutions.
Family counsellors argue that several factors such as financial disagreements, pressure from relatives, work related stress and drug abuse are contributing to these cases of killings in the family.
“Other factors include economic hardships that result in alcoholism and drugs usage, stress, frustrations and depression. Violence on a spouse whether physical, verbal, emotional or sexual does not help in any way,” says Mr Kimani Githongo, a consultant psychologist in Nairobi, who has worked on similar cases before.
“Constant communication, interventions by genuine friends, clergy, family members and counselling may help. If all this fails, perhaps in the very extreme, divorce or separation can be considered.”
Dr Catherine Mutisia, a consultant psychiatrist, says that in many cases she has dealt with, patients are often frustrated with life and others cannot simply balance the demands of life or work and family.
“They get paranoid and so they feel the person they are living with wants to kill them. Some of these people suffer from schizophrenia (a mental disorder that makes it difficult for one to distinguish between real and imaginary world) so most of their enemies are imaginary,” she says.
“These illnesses often start slowly and we encourage our clients to report any change in behaviour of their close family members for early therapy.”
Not all cases result from illness, though, and often, the easier and legal way for couples to settle their fights is through divorce or separation.
But lawyers and social counsellors say the problem lies with a shortage of programmes to help couples in trouble.
“Divorce is quite complicated, but marriage is as complicated. These cases (killings in the family) have nothing to do with long divorce processes. What they have to do with is the lack of support services to those in marriage,” Ms Judy Thongori, a family lawyer in Nairobi, says.
Mr Githongo agrees and adds that even the information available on termination of marriages is insufficient.
“There may be limited or distorted information available to spouses on divorce and separation. Divorce or separation may be a remedy to forestall adverse consequences in marriage as well as a healing to both parties and the children of the marriage. There is need to do more sensitisation,” he adds.
Ms Thongori, who this year helped draft the Marriage Bill, observes that couples who are knowledgeable are able to handle their differences before they escalate.
For example, they may choose to discuss the issues at hand or they may seek professional advice.
“All marriages face problems in one way or another, but some just don’t know where to go to. Eventually, it spirals out of control.
“Normally, if I am not happy with my husband, I know I look for a counsellor and that counsellor will enable us talk this over,” he lawyer said.