Ruth Kamande and the growing crisis of crimes of passion and love

Convicted killer Ruth Kamande on Thursday sat in the dock at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi and listened coolly as the judge sent her to the gallows. Kamande exhibited no emotion or reaction as Lady Justice Jessie Lessit read out the capital sentence, looking for, all the world, like a spectator in an event that was happening to someone else.

“I want young people to know that it is not cool to kill your boyfriend or girlfriend due to frustrations in a relationship,” said the judge. “It is cool to walk away instead.” This was the culmination of a case that has gripped the attention of the country since 2015, when the then 21-year-old Kamande stabbed her boyfriend Farid Mohamed to death after a quarrel at his home in Buru Buru.

In her defence, Kamande said she had been in a relationship with Farid for several years, and that in September 2015 she and Farid had fought over his HIV status. According to Kamande, he had deliberately tried to infect her with HIV. The fight turned violent and Kamande stabbed Farid 25 times, killing him on the spot.

Two years later, while defending herself in front of Justice Jessie Lessit, Kamande recounted what happened moments after she stabbed Farid. “I had blood everywhere. I saw the officer pointing a gun at me. I managed to reach for the keys and door, and was then escorted to the police van. At Metropolitan Hospital, I told the nurses to rescue my boyfriend and they told me that he had also been taken to Metropolitan for treatment. However, on my way to KNH I learnt that Farid had died because his body was right there in front of me. I shouted and screamed but the police officers were too harsh and threatened to beat me up,” she told an enthralled court.

SELF-INFLICTED

She was immediately put on post-exposure prophylaxis once she was at KNH and spent four days there being treated for stab wounds. The investigators later said those wounds were self-inflicted in an attempt to give credibility to her self-defence claims. During her mitigation hearing preceding her sentencing, the court heard that Kamande had converted to Islam while in prison and was a model prisoner who never got into trouble.

But during the sentencing yesterday Justice Lessit described Kamande as “manipulative and controlling”, and said that she had shown no remorse during the court process and therefore did not deserve any leniency. “She stabbed the deceased 25 times, and not in quick succession, but rather spaced it out as if savouring it in pleasure,” said Lessit.

CELEBRITY

Since her arrest in 2015, Kamande has become some sort of celebrity, exciting media houses and blogs into a frenzy of outrageous headlines, playing to an incredulous audience that finds it hard to believe that someone who looks like her could commit such a grisly crime. She is a beauty who won the Ms Lang’ata Women’s Prison title in 2016, and is articulate and well spoken, able to authoritatively address the court and give her side of the story.

To many people, she just does not fit the profile of what they imagine a killer looks like. Not surprisingly, because statistics show that most killers are men, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, with minimal education, and who have committed other crimes. This was Kamande’s first crime, but it follows a dangerous trend that shows that there has been a significant rise in intimate partner crimes committed by women.

Data by the National Crime Research Centre, from a study conducted in 2014, shows that while the rates of violence against women have remained generally the same over the years, the rates of violence against men are going up.

SICK JOKE

“Lifetime prevalence of gender-based violence was 38 per cent for women and 20.9 per cent for men, while current prevalence was 37.7 per cent for women and 48.6 per cent for men,” states the report. “This shows that while women’s vulnerability remained fairly constant, that of men increased appreciably in the last one year. This is consistent with the common belief about increased vulnerability of men.”

It is, however, difficult to pin-point whether this perceived increase is due to increased reporting of violence incidents, or whether it is down to an increase in the actual violence.

Either way, there is generally more awareness about the position of men as potential victims of gender-based violence. In the recent past, Nyeri County has become something of a punchline to a sick joke due to increased cases of women battering their husbands, sometimes killing them or maiming them for life.

The favoured weapon in many of these assault and homicide incidents seems to be a knife or machete. Last year, for example, the rugby fraternity in Kenya was plunged into mourning when star player Mike Okombe was stabbed to death by his girlfriend at his home in Nakuru County.

MEDIA FRENZY

Some victims have survived but suffered grievous injuries, such as Simon Kiguta, the man who became the face of gender-based violence against men in 2012 after sustaining deep cuts to his face which left him with a grotesque web of scars. His wife Juliana Wairimu attacked him after he went home drunk. It is unclear whether she intended to kill him.

At the height of gender-based violence in Nyeri, two men had their male organs chopped off, generating a frenzy in media coverage in which women from the county were condemned wholesale while the men were derided for being “sissies” for allowing such violence to befall them.

A report by this newspaper last month analysed the prevalence of knife crimes, and found that there has been a spike in the number of instances where knives are used as weapons, pointing out that this year alone, around 320 incidents of knifing have been reported. That is an average of almost two a day.

PESTICIDE

Kenya has little nuanced data on the various weapons used for murder, but American statistics, in a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), show that knives are the second most popular weapon of murder, after guns, for both men and women. However, women are more likely to use knives than men.

“Without guns, men have greater preference than women for beating, blunt objects and strangling. Women are more prone to kill with stabbing, asphyxiation, poison, fire, drowning, explosives and defenestration,” stated the analysis on the statistics by American newspaper the Washington Post. The most stand-out data was that poison is a woman’s weapon, accounting for up to four times more murders committed by women than those committed by men.

Poison was Emma Wanjiru’s weapon of choice when she decided to off her husband, Simon Karathe, in Kiserian, Kajiado County, in 2015. Karathe’s body was found on the floor of their house, with foam coming out of his mouth, lying beside a cup containing a white substance and an empty sachet of Agrinate 90, a pesticide.

INACCESSIBLE

Investigations found that Wairimu had fed Karathe the poison as traces of it were found on her hands despite her protests that she was not home when Karathe passed on.

She had then quickened the job by hitting him on the head using a blunt object.

Guns are not commonly used in cases of gender-based violence, probably due to how inaccessible they are to ordinary citizens. But in August last year, Justice Lessit sentenced Sheila Kibinge to death for shooting her husband to death and trying to cover it up as a kidnapping attempt. The court heard that in 2014, Kibinge, who was a university lecturer in the United States, shot her husband in the head, neck and chest. Her defence — that she and her husband had been abducted and that it was the kidnappers who shot her husband dead — was dismissed by the court.

And, in a bizarre incident, Martha Auma Nyargol fled from a Kisumu court after being convicted of murdering her husband. She reappeared in the same court days later where she was sentenced to 30 years for strangling her husband, Jared Ochieng Otieno, to death.

CHOICE OF WEAPON

She had pleaded in her submissions that she was compelled to commit the heinous act by three unnamed assailants who broke into her house and ordered her to strangle her husband to death using a white belt. She was a P1 teacher and a mother of one.

According to security consultant George Musamali, the choice of weapon depends on circumstances.

“Gender-based violence is usually spontaneous, whereby the perpetrator uses the nearest available weapon to kill. Often, this happens to be a knife or a panga,” he said. This explains why, in many such cases, perpetrators usually plead temporary insanity in court, where they say they killed unintentionally due to heightened emotion.

Mr Musamali, however, said use of poison is indicative of premeditated murder because it is evidence of prior planning on the part of the killer.

“For somebody to kill using poison, he or she must have acquired it in advance and plotted how he or she would use it on the victim,” he said, adding that, in his experience, many women who kill their partners do so in self-defence.

PERPETRATORS

“Men are disproportionately more likely to be perpetrators of violence than women. They mete out physical, sexual and emotional violence on their partners, driving the women to put an end to their suffering by killing their tormentors. It is usually a case of killing him before he kills her,” he said.

Many women who murder their partners claim to do it in self-defence, just like Kamande did. The defence has become so common that in some jurisdictions, it has spawned the term “battered woman syndrome”.

Dr Kagucia Kago, a consultant psychiatrist at Mater Hospital, distinguishes this type of killing from cold blooded murders, which he says are usually committed by people who have exhibited sociopathic or psychopathic traits, usually from as early as childhood.

“Psychopaths have no moral faculty. They feel no guilt over actions that might lead other people to feel guilty. They are cunning, manipulative and proficient liars,” he said.

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