Crimes of passion driving relationships into turmoil, despair

Man threatening wife and daughter with his fist. (Courtesy/iStock)

Many relationships have been torn apart over mundane issues that would otherwise have been resolved through sober dialogue.

Tales abound of simple arguments among couples degenerating into fights with tragic ending leaving behind shattered dreams, broken families and regrets.

A number of men and women are behind bars for killing their spouses or partners in the heat of the moment after picking up quarrels that could have been avoided as 36-year-old Grace Wambui came to learn.  

A widow and mother of three, Grace was raised up in a violent family. There were days she was forced to sleep in the cold due to frequent fights by her drunk parents.

Despite the hostile environment back home, Grace excelled in school, scoring 401 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam, but poverty forced her to work as a house help instead of furthering her education.

Later, desperate for love and affection, she met a man who seemed perfect. They married and had a child but things changed after their first child was born.

Her husband, John Mwangi, became irresponsible and increasingly abusive, driving Grace to leave him when she was pregnant with their second child.

“I left after he became too violent to a point I couldn’t hold on,” says Grace.

“By then I had decided to rent a house far from him to have peace of mind,” she adds.

Thinking that she was off the load, months later, her estranged husband managed to trace her in Ruiru, showing up unexpectedly.

“As I was getting ready for work, he suddenly appeared at my door, knocked loudly, and before I could respond, he was already inside,” Grace recalls.

Filled with anger, John grabbed her neck and, wielding a knife, warned Grace to remain silent. He demanded that she returns to him, but Grace refused.

“When I stood firm, he stabbed me. We struggled, and I managed to get hold of the knife and stabbed him in the stomach,” she recounts.

In a state of shock and confusion, Grace screamed for help, and neighbours came to her aid. Her husband was taken to hospital but sadly succumbed to his wounds.

This marked the beginning of a new, overwhelming chapter in Grace’s life - prison. Torn between mourning her husband and fearing for her son’s future, she confessed to the incident and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Prison life offered a harsh new perspective. She faced rejection from all sides. “My family visited me while I was in remand, but once the the sentence was delivered, they vanished. Only my mother agreed to care for my son, but she never visited me. On my husband’s side, no one wanted anything to do with me,” she says.

Pregnant at the time of the verdict, Grace had to raise her second child in prison until she completed her sentence. “After presenting my side of the case, my sentence was reduced to seven years because I acted in self-defense. But the real challenge began after my release,” she explains.

It has been three years since the former inmate regained her freedom, but no family members from either side of the family are willing to associate with her.

Grace had been surviving on support from well-wishers until she became a member of an initiative dubbed ‘Ajali Musamaha’, that was created by ex-convicts imprisoned for relationship-related charges.

The men and women came up with a common goal of reuniting its members with their relatives and the community at large.

The initiative where 49-year-old James Wambugu Wagashe is a co-founder, has over twenty members from different parts of the country.

Unlike Grace, James was sentenced to over fifteen years in prison for the accidental murder of his wife in Mukuru Kwa Njenga informal settlement. Both James and his late wife Jane Wambugu were alcoholics, and their relationship lacked traditional family boundaries. Peace in their house often came only after a serious fight, with one of them stepping out to regain calm.

“We met in a club and fell in love. My wife was a wonderful woman when sober, but when drunk, she turned into someone else entirely. Whenever she got drunk, she became violent and broke anything she could lay her hands on. I tried to help her stop, but it was all in vain,” narrates the man.

Despite his family’s disapproval, James persevered in the relationship. “My family was never happy about our marriage. My parents often questioned my choice of partner but that didn’t deter me from making her the mother of my daughter,” he says.

Letting love take its course, James accepted his wife’s shortcomings and hoped for her to change. “One day, she went out with her friends for a fun weekend and came back late and drunk. When I questioned about her lateness, she became dramatic and started smashing things. By then, we had a daughter who felt scared of her behaviour. I tried to calm her down, but things escalated to the worst,” he recounts.

According to James, his late wife went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife unnoticed. As she was about to attack him, James shielded himself with his hand and kicked Jane, causing her to fall and hit her head against the wall, resulting in her death.

A case was opened against him and after three years of hearing, he was sentenced thirty years at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Unsatisfied, he appealed and the jail term was reduced to 15 years.

Upon completion of his sentence, James found that no one wanted to associate with him. His family members distanced themselves, and starting a new chapter felt like an even harsher sentence. He ended up sleeping on the streets as he tried to rebuild his life.

“Everyone, including my daughter, abandoned me. It’s been more than three years since my release, but the emotional burden I carry is far heavier than the hardships of prison,” states the former convict.

Laiser Luvanga is the newest member of the group. Her story mirrors those of others. Raised in Kakamega, Luvanga, 41, was sentenced to nine years in prison after a fight with her husband Benard Luvanga that turned deadly.

According to her, their relationship was fraught with conflict. One morning, an argument over a simple cup of tea escalated into violence. One of her children requested for a cup of tea, which infuriated her husband, whom she described as incompetent.

“I gave my younger son porridge but he refused and requested for a cup of tea, which I couldn’t afford at that moment. I felt helpless and tried to reason with my husband, only asking for fifty shillings, but it enraged him,” Luvanga recounts.

A fight broke out, leading to a fatal outcome. “I never intended to kill my husband. He had his flaws, but I loved him,” she tearfully explains.

“He was the father of my children, and I never thought of harming him. It was an accident. He had put me through so much, and I lashed out in anger, never expecting it to be fatal,” she adds.

The entire group lives with regret, but those who are supposed to forgive them remain in pain, unwilling to accept the return of individuals responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.

According to James, so far they have managed to reunite only three members and are hoping more will be accepted back to the community.

By AFP 2 hrs ago
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