“I called him on the phone and told him I was tired of suffering,” she says. “I told him I would kill the children and myself to end the suffering.”
The incident involving the family cow took place in Kipsorwet village, Mogondo location. Anne Mugunda, 28, who was four-months pregnant, drowned her three children, aged 5, 3 and 1, after a dispute with her husband over whether to sell their cow.
Her story echoes that of Pamela Achieng’, 33, who set her home in Homa Bay ablaze last year killing her four children aged between four and 12. Achieng’, who then hanged herself, had been involved in a dispute with her estranged husband over the care of their children.
Such incidents are signs of a problem that has been with Kenyans for years. The violence that erupts in these families in crisis is not always from a frustrated mother. One of the most prominent incidents was the 2002 mass killing of eight people by James Mukobero (aka Jamin Muchika) in Shibuye village, Kakamega.
The dead included Mukobero’s pregnant wife and four of eight children he was struggling to support on a mason’s income. Living in poverty, with eight children to support and a ninth on the way, Mukobero went beserk and killed eight people. He tried to take his own life after the incident by eating rat poison, but survived to face trial.
While his trial sparked debate about his mental health, there was little discussion of the pressure he and his wife must have been under taking care of such a large family with so little money and whether other couples were in the same boat.
Many young couples are facing similar pressures in these hard economic times. With access to family planning limited and few social safety nets to help them, it is the children that suffer the most.
Last week, a Nyeri court sentenced a couple to jail for two years for neglecting their children. The young couple is said to have locked their three children in the house and left them for three days, between February 22 and 24, without food. Concerned neighbours had to break into the house to rescue the children.
Two weeks ago, a father of three hacked his wife and two of his children to death in Shinyalu, Kakamega East District. Residents say Geoffrey Khamalishi was enraged after the wife criticised him for failing to provide for his family.
His first born, a five-year-old boy, was the only survivor. Khamalishi’s father, Alphonse Mushira, claimed the couple had no marital problems but described his son as a loner who did not share his troubles.
Dr Ben Ayaya, a sociologist, says people who go beserk and kill their families live with deep-seated issues that can be dealt with before they erupt.
“For someone to react to the point of taking another’s life, the provocation is usually repeated over and over to the point that one feels the solution is to permanently stop its source,” he says. He adds that such problems are most common in societies defined by a huge gap between the rich and the poor.
Dr Chris Hart, a psychologist, disagrees. “Even in developed nations, people are violent. What prevents them is the law and fear of an effective police force that will take action,” he says. The reason such cases are on the rise in Kenya, Hart says, is because the police force is inefficient and people believe they can get away with murder.
Another expert points to the cultural set-up in African societies, which approves of or treats leniently corporal punishment against children and women. Dr Kiratu Kiemo, a sociologist and lecturer, contrasts this with the state of affairs in developed countries where a child can sue for assault.