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The untold story of Masten Wanjala, his stepfather speaks

NATIONAL
By Daniel Wesangula | October 19th 2021

For the first time, Anthony Ndonye Musau, the man who raised Masten Wanjala, speaks of his son's upbringing. He talks of the young man's love for football, his incomparable intellect and most importantly, where it all started to go wrong for the young man who, through talent and intellect, could have had the entire world at his feet

Masten Wanjala's father, Robert Watila has apologized to the families whose young kids were killed by his late son who was lynched on Friday by irate residents at Mukhweya area in Bungoma County. [Micah Sali, Standard]

A father and his son

Sometime in 2004, Anthony Ndonye Musau fell in love with a neighbour, Edna Wanjala who would later agree to be his wife.

Both husband and wife walked into the relationship with their fair share of scars. They had seen battle in the field of love. They had triumphed and lost against it in equal measure.

But in each other, and in their home in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, the two found a togetherness that they vowed would see them ride through whatever life threw at them.

 At the centre of this love story though, was a four-year-old child who would in later years, define the lives of the couple in ways that none of them knew would be possible.

“When I met her, she already had her son,” Anthony told The Standard. “He was a boy anyone would love to have around. He was a joy.”

Together man, wife and son sought to start life anew. Their aspiration was that the hard work would eventually propel them from the place they called home back then to a much friendlier environment. 

The two were determined that their children would have better luck in life.

Just two years into their relationship, their family life hit turbulence. And what they initially thought to be a patch of rough sea stayed with them longer than they had anticipated.

“He had started behaving badly,” Anthony says. “Picking money from our clothes, not answering respectfully… he had just started being generally rude,” said the parents.

But, now expecting a second child, they still gave their counsel as parents to the young boy with a different name whose love for football was unmatched; Masten. 

Later in life, the entire country would know his three official names- Masten Wanjala Milimo.

The late Masten Wanjala. [Courtesy]

Succeeded

Life may have not turned out as he hoped, but Anthony believes it is significantly better now. 

He no longer lives in Mukuru Kwa Njenga. His hard work over the years as a welder and the determination of his wife, who started out washing clothes for people in the city, has paid off somewhat.

He is building his own house on the outskirts of Machakos town. His hands are rough and stained, a testament of a working man. An iron mongers’ hammer is never very far from him. Through it, he has carved out an existence from a world that many find hard to navigate.

His stall sits neatly in a rectangular compound along the Nairobi Machakos road just past the A and L Hotel. 

Shops within the compound are lined up against the four walls of the property. 

Here eating houses, butcheries, salons and barbershops compete for the attention of anyone who walks in. 

Restaurants with 11 items on the menu and those with a single meat product- pork or beef too compete for attention.

When you enter the green gates of the property, Anthony’s space is to your immediate left. On the day of the interview he is in a subdued maroon shirt and maroon corduroy trousers. A pair of welders’ sunglasses sit on his furrowed brow.

Masten ni mtoto wangu,” he says. “Siwezi kataa.” [Masten is my son I will not deny.]

Anthony’s face is expressionless at first, but as the conversation continues, and memories creep from deep within him, a mixture of emotions plays around on his face. Eventually, it is the sadness that emerges crystal clear.

“As a father, I did everything I could to try and raise him into a good man,” he says. “But I don’t think it was enough.”

Their first point of clashing was school.

“He didn’t like school. He always ran away. He would stay away sometimes for an entire month. This happened even during Masten’s formative years in primary school.

“The thing that puzzled us most was that even with him attending less than a month of school every term, he was always the best or the second-best student in the class. Nothing past these two positions. He was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew.”

School though wasn’t exciting enough for the young Masten, and soon the allure of truancy triumphed over the promise of education. 

His attendance records became worse. And by the time he got to class four, his parents believed there wasn’t any more convincing that they could do.

“It was as if something was disturbing him. It was as if something was walking in his head,” Anthony said.

So they sought an alternative.

 A meeting of men

For five years, the Musau’s went on with life with some level of uncertainty. Masten left home in 2014 without saying goodbye or leaving behind a forwarding address. 

Every so often, they would wonder whether Masten was faring on well.

They would wonder if he was alive or dead but quickly dispel these thoughts because when he left, Masten left behind a cloud that none would ever outrun. 

A cloud that always sits heavily on the chests of those old enough to remember whenever there is a family gathering.

On June 14, this wonder stopped. A familiar face flashed in front of all TV stations. 

A familiar name was broadcast across all radio stations. A name and a face that made Anthony sit up and pay attention.

“He had grown into a man. He left without even the hint of a strand of hair on his face, now he had a beard. But a father never forgets a face,” Anthony said.

The details that came with his son’s face were incredible to him. His son stood accused and confessed to murdering at least 10 children across the country.

 From Nairobi to his biological father’s home in Bungoma County.

At that moment, Anthony thought of all the prospects that his son had. His football prowess. 

His academic prowess. His near savant knowledge of soccer players from across the football leagues across the world. 

But he also remembered the interventions they tried to save Masten from himself. The interventions and the alternatives.

“After we realised that we could not handle him we took him to the local police station. They gave us a letter that guaranteed admission to an approved school,” Anthony says.

Masten was then checked into an institution in Nairobi’s Industrial area. At the time, the police said, were he old enough, they would have preferred to send him to jail. 

He was barely 14. But his temperament in the institution was so erratic that the administrators refused to admit him the following term.

“We went back to the police. They gave us another letter and we took him to another institution in Kericho,” he says. 

“We hoped that somehow the discipline he would get there would make him stop his wayward behaviour.”

The distance from home, the depravity in these corrective institutions and stringent punishment meted out on the children detained in these facilities did little to reform Masten.

Instead, he seemed to get worse. And when he came home from yet another suspension, he declared he was done with education. But this was not the biggest mark yet he was to make in his and the lives of those around him. 

At 15, and after stints in police stations, approved schools, dozens of beatings from his parents, the academically gifted boy with a love for football would commit his first murder.

Death in The Family.

One Saturday morning in 2014, Edna, Masten’s mother and her sister-in-law made plans to attend chama meeting not far from home.

 In their estimation, they would be back at their house by lunchtime. 

The sister-in-law though was in a dilemma. She needed someone to watch Purity, her 7-year-old daughter.

Soon it was settled. The two friends would both leave their children in Edna’s house. The older sibling, Masten, would babysit his younger cousin Purity. After all, they had shown a closeness not uncommon among cousins.

True to their predictions, the meeting ended within the time they had estimated. And at around half past midday, they were back home.

 Masten, quickly prepared a meal for them and served the returning women, all the while telling them that Purity was at a neighbour’s house.

The three ate together but as time went by, Purity’s mother’s motherly instinct kicked in. 

She left the house in search of her young daughter who was nowhere to be found in the neighbouring homes. Masten too had joined the search. But he never came back home.

“When the two women came back home later that afternoon, they discovered their daughter’s body hidden somewhere in the bedroom,” Anthony said. 

“We called the chief. He called the OCS. Purity had been strangled to death. And soon we were planning for child’s burial with another missing.”

Masten left home and never came back, leaving behind a grieving, broken family that has never recovered from the tragic events of that day.

“Things have never been the same. There is a lot of pain among us,” Anthony says of Purity’s death- his brother’s daughter.

As the interview goes on, neighbouring businesses have stopped. Anthony’s tale of loss, parenting and trying to move on captivating even the noisiest of boda-boda riders. For a moment they turn off their revving engines to listen in. Unfazed, he continues.

“It was as if this was already written. We tried everything to correct him. It didn’t help,” he says. 

“If he had remained in jail, he maybe could have been corrected and used his brains to help the world.”

Life, unfortunately, has very few second chances. For Masten, the probability of such was even lower.

After walking out of police custody, he went back to the place that he perhaps thought would accommodate him. The birthplace of his mother and his biological father. There, though, he met death in the hands of an irate mob.

Anthony says he would have met a similar fate, were he to choose Machakos instead of Bungoma.

“Murder is painful… Even if he came back here he would still have been killed. People were waiting for him,” he says. 

“Even with this truth, I still feel pain. I feel pain as a father because I wanted him to succeed in life?"

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