Murder of the Innocents: Tracing Filicide in Kenya

A man walks into his home at the end of another long hard day at work.. He doesn’t know why he feels so on edge, or whether there is anything good left in his world. His five boys back at home, waiting to be fed.

Their mother, an enigmatic character when she was a raw cherry, unhurt by the pains of life, now a mess of nerves and the backbreaking work of holding a family together. She nags, once in a while, like all women should, but tonight she pushes too much. Something is wrong, he knows, and the pounding in his head as she yells something about flour and cabbages as he walks into the house. Tonight he feels overly on the edge, the sound of her voice, all he hears is her condescending voice telling him he is not man enough, that he cannot provide for his family, like an African man should. It is not what she is saying, but it is what he hears…
A scream cuts through the otherwise serene air, the neighbors ignore the ‘woooii! Wuuuuwi! Usiniue baba Peter! Usiue watoto wangu’ –[screams] Please don’t kill me Peter’s father. Please don’t kill my children. They ignore it because the two are always fighting, there’s always a fight, every night, and she always screams the same things. Since the children walk out of the house, they figure it is just the usual spousal ups and downs. 

Tethered by marriage, customs, a government that does not give a fuck, religions that only seek alms and tithes and a system that is rotten. The man in between with a wife he cannot allow to work because they have had so many children, and what can she do really, with no proper education in a world where one is judged by what they have read not what they know. The next day, television viewers in middle class homes shake their heads at the gruesome and unnecessary deaths of five children and quickly switch to other channels they can watch without disgust. The crime scenes are gruesome, as one would expect from a bloodbath. “The lower class is eating itself,” the middle class tells his wife as they get ready to touch in for the night, “why can’t one just give up his children for adoption if he cannot take care of them.” Quickly, the discourse turns to politics and the plight of five is quickly forgotten.

  • 11th April, 2009: Jane Wagaki (wife and pregnant), Scholastica Wairimu 15 Martin Muiruri 3 killed by Patrick Kanyi, stepfather.
    • Early October, 2010 –  Bilah Omare (wife); 12-year-old son, Kinley Ogendi; and 9-year-old daughter, Ivyn Ogendi killed by Justus Ogendi Kababe in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota.
    • 23rd March, 2012- Silas Kiprotich 10, Salome Chepkorir 7 , and Bethuel Kiplangat 5 and a three-year old  killed by John Tanui 37 in Rongena, Narok South.
    • 25th September, 2012: Amos Kipkoech aged ten, twins Dominic Kiprop and Caleb Kipchirchir aged nine, Daniel Kiplagat aged five, and Gideon Kipng’eno aged two.
    • 10th November, 2012:  Brian Misati 8, Robert Toto 6, Cythia Moraa and Mogutu Mun 3 are killed by their father, Misati Nyangwenchi in Egesa Village.
    • 12th December, 2012- Elizabeth Ochieng, Wycliffe Odhiambo, Melvin Atieno, Walter Otieno and Moses Ochieng’  killed by Boniface Ouma Auka in Korogocho slums. He hanged himself on January 7th in a prison cell.
    • December 28th, 2012: Unnamed two months baby girl is strangled by the father after her  teenage mother dumped her at the father’s house.
    • 2nd January 2013- Kahindi Zero kills his four-year old son ‘to get healed.’

It does not make it to the front pages, there are more important things than the deaths of five children in a poor family. The normally overactive, adrenaline social media lynch mobs do not bay for anyone’s blood even after it happens again and again. It does not matter, it would seem, if it does not happen to you or anyone you know.
Stabbing is a very personal way to kill someone, or something, in this day and age. When you combine it with the fact that the murderer here is killing his or her own, the personal nature of this crime becomes even more evident. They might also choose stabbing because it is convenient; every household, the economic position notwithstanding, has ‘sharps’ such as knives and machetes. Unlike the US where gun control is thought to be the solution to the constant bloodbaths, one cannot ban the use of knives and other such tools and cutlery.

  • The children aged between two to 10 years had deep stab wounds all over their bodies. (AfricaReview, 2012)
  • The gushing blood and twitching bodies of his own children could not stop Kirui, who earns a living brewing busaa and distilling chang’aa in the village. “The tragedy happened at around 3am this morning (yesterday). The man used a panga and slit their necks, killing each one of them,” said Wambua. (All Africa.com, 2012)
  • …Nyangwenchi who has since gone into hiding, killed the children by stabbing them in their necks.
  • “The body of the eldest daughter was discovered on the door step, while the rest of the bodies were found in a plantation nearby,” Nyaboke said.
  • “After killing his children aged 10, seven, five and three, he went and hanged himself with a rope and died on the spot,” he said.

The gruesomeness of these crimes bespeaks of an underlying psychological and socio-economic problem; the occurrence indicates that something is rotting in this society of ours. What do the crime scenes tells us? First, these crimes happen in low-income households, or rather the ones that make it to the news. Most are perpetrated by the father/husband, and often after a fight with the wife or family. The perpetrator, in most cases, kills himself or herself by hanging or some other such method. Why does he not stab himself?

Stabbing, even while being both personal and convenient, and fast, is still not a consolation that the innocents do not suffer. Think of it like this, one man cannot kill five children at once, so he must kill them in some order. Does he start with the strongest? Or the Eldest? Or with the lastborn he so much loves? One murder might be an accident but most of these murders are well thought out acts of savagery. What do these murders indicate? Are the social fractures now showing? The socio-economic pressure on the father who does not feel like he can sufficiently provide for his family? Or the mother who feels frustrated by the strain and burden? “The man slit throats of his five sons aged between ages 10 and two with a kitchen knife and then hanged himself in the same room. (Capital FM, September 25th 2012).

Another common factor in these bloodbaths is that the victims are often three or more, and often of the same sex-male. Does the number matter? Combined with the other factors in the crimes, a pattern emerges. The families are typical low income households where family planning is unheard of, and myths subsequently made to justify this need. Such households, whether in rural areas or in urban slums, are feeling the brunt of the socio-economic strain that results from the growth of a capitalist and seemingly selfish- society. In the one case that was thought to involve the mother, the Korogocho Massacre (December 20th, 2012), she told the police that she had separated from her husband and left the children in his care.

fivechildrenwho

Amos Kipkoech aged ten, twins Dominic Kiprop and Caleb Kipchirchir aged nine, Daniel Kiplagat aged five, and Gideon Kipng’eno aged two

The looming crisis will probably catch us all flatfooted, unjustifiably so. While we are a country desperately in need of a social revolution, as opposed to a political one which we think we deserve, the children of low income families continue to live in such acrimonious households where they have to fight for their own survival. We shake our heads when we hear the murders occur ‘…because of food…’ as if food does not matter. The most basic of needs, food is the universal representation of parental responsibility. It is why we say ‘put food on the table’ and not ‘ fuel the car’ or ‘pay rent.’

  • Residents claimed that the man was bitter after his wife criticized him for failing to provide food for his family. (SomalilandInformer.com, 2012)
  • The suspect quarreled with his wife over rent and killed the children after she stormed out.
  • Yegon had an argument with his wife whom he  accused her of having an affair before committing the heinous crime.
  •  Nyangwechi’s wife Hellen Kemunto said they have had quarrels in their 10-year marriage but never knew their arguments would up in tragedy. “I did not know that the quarrels will one day lead my husband to kill our two sons and daughters. I did not know his intention for chasing me away,” Kemunto said tears rolling down her cheeks.
  • She returned to her matrimonial home on Sunday morning only to be welcomed by the body of her last born daughter the doorstep http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000070431
  • Maelo said that at the time of the incident, Tanui’s wife was admitted at Tenwek Mission Hospital where she was expecting to deliver a fifth baby.

The likely cause is some social fracture, some element within the sanity that one would expect from the social institution of a family that is exhibiting itself as infanticide and other ‘household’ crimes. What is the risk then? One cannot remove knives and other sharps from the households, no can you stop all parents who can harm their children from doing so, so a compromise of sorts must be made. How is the rest of society to make sure that children are safe, even from their own parents?

Our society is breaking from the base because we focus on things that should not be our ultimate priorities. Politics, our infatuation with political structures, has taken away any mention of social crisis. You have a low-class that has to wake up every morning, or every evening if you work night shift, to face a host of socio-economic issues. The five children in the house need food, and education, and shelter, and the one man to supply all that is paid peanuts for back-breaking work. When they fall sick and he takes them to the public hospital, the nurses and doctors are on strike because the political class will not relent in its own selfish rape of the national coffers. Public schools are full, and understaffed, while we build big roads to nowhere. Food, the most basic of human needs, is prone to get even more scarce as we turn perfect agricultural land into gated communities for the middle class and the upper class. Then a slum will mushroom next to it to supply an army of workers to wipe our shoes, guard our gates, wash our clothes, provide cheap labor, watch our children and most of all, vote every five years.

It is only a savage society that will kill its own children, and that is what we are. Consider social apathy, the amnesia you experience whenever you hear of a husband killing his entire family and then hanging himself, or waiting until he is incarcerated to commit suicide. No one wants to know why one would do such a thing, no one cares anyway. Each time it happens, it falls several columns into obscurity until the only mention of it is three lines in the Occurrence Book at the local police station listed as ‘Domestic Violence.’

The base of the pyramid is chipping, and when the cascade comes, for it will, it will take us all down with it. To think we are a civilized generation is to merely massage our own egos. We are still primal, instinctive, brutal animals. All that we have done, to rephrase Groucho, is to learn how to pretend we are civilized. Our only advantage over the cavemen is that this is our time, and unlike their lives which we can only hypothesize, we might actually have a chance to  make the ideal society.

Owaahh, 2013