Murder! Murder! Murder!

Cases of fatal attacks against spouses have been on the rise across the country, sparking off debate in offices, homes, social media and social places about the state of the Kenyan society.

The string of gruesome and senseless killings has raised concern over the safety of womenfolk, who seem to be the main casualties.

Former journalist Moses Otieno Dola is serving a 10-year sentence for killing his wife, Sarah Wambui Kabiru, formerly of NTV, after a marital difference that led to a fight.

In Kakamega AP Patrick Nyapara has been charged with the murder of his lover, Christine Maonga, in Navakholo subcounty. 

Danger beckons everywhere you look. And the victims cut across all genders.

Psychologist Charlene Denousse of Riverdale Medical Center - Lavington says domestic violence involves an unequal power dynamic in which one partner tries to assert control over the other in a number of ways.

"It can be physical or psychological, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation," she says. Denousse says it may include behaviours meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner.

What could be triggering the killings and fuelling the epidemic that has left many families in shock and tears? The Star talked to victims of marital violence and experts to find out.

"It can be physical or psychological, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation,"she said.
Charlene Denousse

What could be triggering the killings and fueling the epidemic that has left many families in shock and tears? The star talked to victims of marital violence and experts to find out.


From 2001 Joyce Wangui ,47,  and her husband Peterson started swimming in the deep end of debts. Peterson borrowed loans from banks,friends,saccos to fund his start up business ideas. Every business Peterson started flopped. That is how Peterson switched his focus to pastoral program where he received a calling to open his church in 2010. Wangui says  2010 was their darkest year riddled with misfortunes.

The loans she said  was tenfold, her husband wanted to open a church yet they were bankrupt, her first born was a class eight candidate but there was no money to enroll him for form one, her business that was feeding the family collapsed but the worst blow to her is when she found out she was pregnant.

"I went to the clinic for family planning but was told I was told i was one month pregnant.I was so angry with God. How could he give me a child amidst all this financial crisis?,"she recounts.


Joyce Wangui, 47, was fast asleep when her husband Peterson attempted to kill the whole family by torching their house.

"I woke up at around 2am on a Monday to pray as it was my quotidian. But my husband was still in the living room [my centre of prayer], so I went back to sleep as I waited for him to leave the living room," she narrates.

Before she dozed off, her husband walked into the room to a corner where he kept books and picked up something. "I was unsure of what he picked. The lights were off. But I assumed it was a book. He did not know I saw him," she recounts.

A few minutes later Wangui smelt parrafin. "I woke up to go find out what was happening and why the smell of kerosene yet if it was food Peterson was warming he would have used gas."

On opening the door to her bedroom, she stumbled upon her husband doused in kerosene, and carrying a jerrycan of paraffin and matches.

"Do you know we are going?" Peterson asked her. "Where are we going?" Wangui asked. Peterson took her hand and led her to the living room.

"I could not believe my eyes. The gas cylinder was on the coffee table, the knob turned on and gas was leaking. I asked him, 'What do you want to do?'"

That's when Peterson quickly lit a match and he caught fire. "I was beside him. I quickly let go and ran towards the door to get out and call for help. The door was locked with a padlock. There was no key."

Wangui, a staunch believer, started screaming, "Jesus, you are the fourth man, come in this fire." She repeated the statement three times and that was when it hit she was not having a nightmare. 

"All along I thought I was dreaming but now I saw it was reality. My husband was lying down burning, my two children were coughing in the other room. So I had to gather strength and act fast," she says.

She called her two children Mauryn and Abigael, and quickly opened her bedroom window to call for help. "The fire was spreading but it had not reached my bedroom." 

The window was broken but they had to wait for the grills to be cut. "We were chocking and coughing out black particles," she says.

"I could not believe my eyes, the gas cylinder was opened and put on the top of the coffee table.I asked him Unataka kufanya nini? (what do you want to do)" Wangui said.

When Wangui looked back to check on her daughters, she only saw one of them. When she asked her where the sister was, she replied that she had gone to a different room.

"I sat down helpless. My youngest girl, 6, was missing," she narrates.

The two were rescued and rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital. "But my youngest daughter and my husband passed on," she says.

Wangui blames debts for her family's misfortune. "From 2001 my husband borrowed loans from friends, saccos and banks to fund his businesses, which flopped," she says.

For nine years they wallowed in debt. She says in 2010 they would go hungry as any money made would go towards repaying the loans. "In 2010 I was pregnant with my fourth child. I remember sleeping hungry as the loans were [so many]," Wangui says.

Her husband, then a pastor at a church on Kangundo Road, stopped talking to his wife, picking calls and even preaching. He had a notebook in which he wrote, 'God give me money, save me from this humiliation.'

Wangui, now a pastor at Kingdom Seekers on Thika Road, shares her story to inspire couples facing financial challenges. She encourages couples to speak to each other when facing problems. "Nothing is permanent. A problem shared is [a problem] half solved," she says.


Maendeleo Ya Wanaume chairman Nderitu Njoka says abuse of men is on the rise.

"Conjugal rights have become limited. Most men come to me claiming that their wives have denied them sex for over a year simply because they did not give them what they wanted," he says.

He says most men are afraid to speak out as there are few institutions that fight for their rights. They end up either becoming bitter or looking for other women to make them happy.

Denial of food is another issue that leads to marriage disputes. Maina went to complain to Maendeleo Ya Wanaume because his wife would give him bones yet he bought meat. 

"I was in a club with friends when I shared my predicament and realised I had a problem. I went home and asked my wife about it, but instead of solving the issue, she slapped me and for about three months denied me sex. It is now almost a year and I feel like I am not appreciated," he says.

Njoka says living with an abusive partner is like having a terrorist around you. "I would like the government to evaluate the case as not just murder but as terrorism," he says.

He says before getting married, it is advisable for two people to learn everything there is to know about each other.

In the past, poverty was blamed for marital murder but now the killings are happening among well-off couples. 


Counselling psychologist Denousse says research points to many causes of domestic violence; but all of these causes and risk factors have one underlying commonality: The abuser feels the need to exert complete control over his or her partner.

She says abusers learn to use cultural traditions and abusive tactics to control others—from family members to people around them—as they grow up.

"Most domestic abusers grew up witnessing domestic abuse and violence in their own homes. They learnt to view physical and emotional violence as valid ways to vent anger and cope with their own internal fears and self-worth issues," she says.

Denousse says abusive behaviour gets reinforced when one uses violence and abuse tactics to solve a problem and they actually work. They establish tremendous control over others through abuse tactics, especially when no one stops them or reports them to the authorities

"Common triggers that set off an abuser include disagreement with their intimate partner, periods of unemployment, financial issues, or desperation when a partner threatens to leave," she says.

Other triggers include anger escalation, humiliation stemming from problems at work or other perceived failures, jealousy and envy.

Denousse says mostly it's women who are victims of domestic violence, but men are frequently getting victimised too in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

"Abusers tear down the victim's self-worth gradually, over time, to gain control over them. They may convince the victim that he/she deserves the abuse or caused it in some way, causing the abuser to 'lose control'," she says.

"Most domestic abusers grew up witnessing domestic abuse and violence in their own homes. They learned to view physical and emotional violence as valid ways to vent anger and cope with their own internal fears and self-worth issues,"she said.

This is a classic control tactic of abusers—convincing the victim that they cause the violence and bring it upon themselves.

"Victims do not cause the abuse. The abuser is in complete control of his or her behaviour. Women too are more than capable of tearing people down either physically, emotionally or psychologically," she says.

Counselling psychologist Josephine Kinya attributes the rising violence to moral decay in modern families. The older generations, she says, were brought up and modelled better.


Deliverance Church overseer Bishop Mark Kariuki says the marriage vow that commits spouses to love one another for better or for worse, till death parts them, has remained unedited, and therefore undisturbed, for decades. 

He says when a couple goes for premarital counselling, the first thing they are told is to realise they are not siblings and so should not expect to handle issues in a similar manner. 

There are times when the two will disagree and the best thing is to always accommodate each other, he says. Kariuki says in a quarrel, a wise or understanding partner will realise they do not need to win the argument. 

However when both are stubborn, they will always have problems., he says. What the church encourages is "in case there is disagreement, always create room for your spouse's opinion, emotions. We don't encourage divorce, I can't tell any couple to divorce, because they believe in the God that I believe in and since my God doesn't support divorce, I can't advise any person to divorce. The fault is on the individual and that all depends on why the couple decided to settle as a couple." 

Kariuki says couples rush through courtship, dooming their marriages. "There is the rush to get married, arrogance and pride; these are the main reasons most couples are not sticking together." 

He says some people marry for sex and afterwards realise they are stuck. "In such a situation, there was no love, but lust. So they now decide to go and look for sex elsewhere, which leads to immorality." 

Kariuki says it is an abomination to marry for material wealth. 

His advice 

Share your problems with people who care about you and will walk with you. Be willing to apologise. Walking away means you cannot forgive, which is very crucial. When you walk away, within a few days you will have sexual desires that will lead you to another person with the same problems you had from your previous relationship.

"Common triggers that set off an abuser include disagreement with their intimate partner,periods of unemployment,Financial issues,desperation when partner threatens to leave,"she said.


At what point do victims report cases of violence, is it after a lot of damage has already been done?

Lawyer Onkendi: Most of the time, victims fail to report because society judges them harshly if they do. Secondly, the police service in Kenya is not well equipped to handle such complaints.

How can we solve this problem?

Lawyer Onkendi: An amendment to the Police Service Act should be undertaken whereby, every police station in Kenya is installed with dedicated domestic or gender or sexual violence desks, with officers who have the capacity to handle such complaints with empathy and quickly.

Similarly, these officers should be trained on how to collect critical evidence arising out of domestic violence, and preserve the same in a manner that will aid prosecution and conviction in court.

Who are the most perpetrators of domestic violence, is it men or women?

In most cases, the perpetrators are men, because of the patriarchal society we live in.

What's the solution?

The country's leadership, beginning with the presidency, should set the pace by actively condemning domestic/gender/sexual violence in public.

Secondly, the laws we have such as the Sexual Offences Act should be calibrated to include emerging offences such as stalking, cyberbullying, voyeurism and emotional abuse.

Do we have cases of men who are victims of domestic violence? Are they many?Are victims opening up?

Some of my clients are men who have suffered domestic violence. It is very difficult for them to open up.

Reason, Kenya is still a very conservative and patriarchal society, where a man cannot and should not express weakness. Admitting one is beaten by his spouse would amount to weakness.

Solution: Society should be weaned out of toxic masculinity.

"Abusers tear down the victim's self-worth gradually over time to gain control over them. They may convince the victim that he/she deserves the abuse or caused it in some way, causing the abuser to "lose control",she said.