Wave of murders symptom of sick society – experts

Friday, January 13th, 2023 05:40 | By
Crime scene
A forensic expert analyses a crime scene. PHOTO/Courtesy

The family of Mzee Nyitu Mulili of Kawethei village in Kangundo is in mourning. Married to two wives, his family had been caught up in a fierce feud over family land.

Clan elders who have been involved in solving the dispute say the patriarch is said to have refused to sub-divide land to one of his wives’ family.

Then arsonists descended on the home of one of the families on Tuesday night, set the house on fire and burnt three of Richard Mulili’s children to death.

Area police boss Zachariah Bitok yesterday said the three children aged eight, six and four were burned to death round 8pm at Kawethei village after the attackers, suspected to be relatives, started throwing stones at the homestead, forcing some of the occupants to flee.

“We received reports that there was an attack at the homestead of one Mr Richard Mulili. It later turned out that the invaders set the house on fire and occupants fled into the bushes but three children who were sleeping got burnt by the time police officers arrived at the scene. We have launched investigation to establish what exactly happened,” Bitok said.

Land feud

He revealed that a group of people who are in a dispute over the land had held a meeting with Kangundo Sub-County Commissioner Joyce Akinyi.

According to Akinyi, Mulili had two wives and before he died in 2004 he wanted the second wife to be evicted from his land together with her six children.

The first wife is also deceased but is survived by a son, Richard.

“The second wife is now in a feud with the son of the first wife as she wants the property of Mzee Mulili divided equally between the two families,” Akinyi told People Daily.

The chilling Kangundo killing is among spate of murders that have shaken the country for the past one month with experts warning that they were signs of an increasingly “sick” society in which people attach little value to human life.

Besides the Kangundo incident, a father in Kisii is accused of hacking his two children to death. There is also the killing of seven family members is Embu, the shocking gouging of a baby’s eyes in Kisii and the murder of gay rights activist Edwin Chiloba.

Police in Kisii are also in pursuit of a nurse in whose house was found the mutilated body of a primary school teacher over what is believed to have been a love triangle.

“We are pursuing two theories which we suspect might have led to the death of Ezekiel Getangwa who was a headteacher at Getengererie Primary School in Nyamira. The love triangle issue and the financial aspect of it,” the county police boss Kimani Mitugi told People Daily.

Police are pursuing the angle that the nurse, Agnatta Agwata, who is still at large, had organised his killing because he had refused to return borrowed money because they were lovers.

Poor communication

Yesterday, a man was arraigned at the Kisii law courts over the murder of his son using a jembe, while in Nairobi, a court granted police 14 days to investigate safari rally driver Maxine Wahome over alleged murder of her boyfriend, rally driver Asad Khan. Khan is said to have died of injuries sustained after a fight at their house.

Experts who spoke to People Daily attributed the rising murder cases to mental illness, hard economic times, infidelity in marriages, low temperament, low self-esteem, poverty, raw appetite for property, anger due to poor communion in families, retrogressive cultural practices and a general sense of loss and failure by family heads.

In the words of one psychologist, the Kenyan society is “ailing and its people hungry and angry”.

Psychologist Ken Munyua associates the spate of killings to a society plagued by mental illness.

“People are mentally ill and they do not realise it. Most struggle with depression and piled up anger emanating from difficult circumstances. When people finally vent, it becomes fatal,” Munyua says.

He encourages people facing mental health challenges to seek professional assistance and rely on support from family and friends.

Munyua says both the government and the media have a role to play.

“The media should focus on positivity. Daily headlines about higher taxes, election losers, and the aftermath of Covid-19 are taking a toll on people’s mental health. Editors should propel hope to society and publish stories that give people hope,” he says.

Traditional model

Prof Halimu Shauri, a sociologist at Pwani University, shares Munyua’s view.

“We have failed as a nation to address the global problem of mental health that is manifesting itself in our country. We need to think about how to invest in mental health and deal with this challenge,” he says.

Shauri believes that the taboo nature of the subject of mental health in African societies has resulted in its proliferation and a failure to provide adequate interventions.

“People think mental illness is being ‘crazy’, but there are many aspects. Depression, anxiety and stress are all aspects of mental ill health. Some of these are caused by worsening living conditions,” he says.

“Before, health was assumed to be the mere absence of physical infirmity. But now, we know that there is spiritual and mental health too. The government only thinks about the traditional model of health,” he adds.

Food insecurity

Counselling Psychologist Michael Mbiriri has linked the wave of homicides to personality traits and temperament.

Mbiriri has also pointed a finger at occult and retrogressive cultural practices.

“Some people will kill their spouses as revenge for promiscuity or infidelity, while others commit murder as a cover up for another crime such as rape,” he says.

“Many people have limited avenues to reduce impact from various pressures of life including the prevailing high unemployment, tough economic times, and the impact of Covid-19 and food insecurity caused by drought,” Dr Frank Njenga who was a member of the task force on mental health says.

“These emotions and many more other related consequences are emotionally trapped such that people easily resort to murder or suicide even at the least provocation,” Dr Njenga said yesterday.

Dr Njenga said one of the recommendations was that mental illness should be declared a National Emergency of epidemic proportions.

“What we wrote in that report is now coming to fruition as we are witnessing those things we cautioned about,” he said.

The Taskforce called on the government to prioritise mental health as a priority public health and socioeconomic agenda.

The Taskforce also recommended the establishment of a mental health commission, to advice, coordinate and continuously monitor the status of mental health.

Mbiriri urges the media to sensitise the public on the signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression.

Munyua also proposes the decriminalisation of attempted suicide and the provision of mental health services to persons found to have made attempts at their own lives.

He also suggests increased funding for NGOs lobbying for mental healthcare and multi-sectoral grassroots interventions that involve chiefs and community workers.

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