In Summary

  • We could go on and on and on to chronicle this grinding catalogue of madness, but the point has already been made: man, though designed by nature to be protector, is quickly turning annihilator. But, why?
  • The Guardian newspaper editor Mark Townsend sees it as a masculinity crisis, but psychiatrists and psychologists think Mukobero, Kiprono and Aluda represent the growing tribe of criminal minds branded as ‘family annihilators’.
  • And while mental illness and other neurological problems may be a plausible explanation, Dr Achar Muga, a Nakuru-based counselling pyschologist, has a revealing explanation: murderers of this kind are made, not born.

Whether a father, husband, brother, son or whatever role a man assumes in the society, he is the protector, the provider, the armour on which all forms of danger fall before they get to his family.

That is why when he turns on the very people he has religiously taken care of, the society is shaken to the core as it wonders what could make him abandon his traditional role to star as a villain in blood-curdling family carnage.

Yet it happens. A lot.

On the chilly evening of April 29, 2001, for instance, Jamin Mukobero, described by those who knew him as kind and gentle, picked up a machete and hacked his expectant wife Susan to death.

Then he dashed into a nearby hut where their three sons had hidden in terror and killed them before descending on four other members of their family, bringing the total of his victims to nine.

Yet this murderous man was, at least in the eyes of his brother, “hardworking, kind and generous.”

He was not a lone species though. Months later, John Kiprono Kirui, a 47-year-old farmer, also hacked his five children to death before committing suicide after a domestic quarrel at their home in Kuresoi, Nakuru County.

Earlier this month, a labourer collected his eight-month-old daughter from the hospital on the pretence that he was taking her to a better facility only to bury the infant alive in the full glare of his seven-year-old son.

And only recently, Gerishom Aluda, 35, locked himself, his wife and three children inside their grass-thatched house in the Vindizi village of Vihiga County and set it on fire.

We could go on and on and on to chronicle this grinding catalogue of madness, but the point has already been made: man, though designed by nature to be protector, is quickly turning annihilator. But, why?

The Guardian newspaper editor Mark Townsend sees it as a masculinity crisis, but psychiatrists and psychologists think Mukobero, Kiprono and Aluda represent the growing tribe of criminal minds branded as ‘family annihilators’.

The term, first used in 1986 by famed American forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, describes fathers who kill their children, and frequently their wives as well.

And while mental illness and other neurological problems may be a plausible explanation, Dr Achar Muga, a Nakuru-based counselling pyschologist, has a revealing explanation: murderers of this kind are made, not born.

According to Dr Achar, the social institution within which family annihilation takes place exists alongside the economy, education, polity and religion in the framework of the modern society.

The pressure that has been exerted on the man in these difficult times has left him heartbroken, depressed and beaten down that even a little disappointment can drive him to that murderous rage.

Ninety-five per cent of family annihilators are male and share similar traits that place them on lower social cadres in the society: they are underemployed, undereducated and from modest socio-economic backgrounds.

Dr Achar adds: “Despite their disadvantaged economic situations, these men are usually the seniormost in their households and a little failure on their part is sneered upon as no one wants to listen or understand their difficult lives.”

The patrilineal African society has asked so much of the man and given him so little in return, brewing a deep sense of entitlement from him.

Setting mental illness aside, all studies querying what drives these men must bring into context the way in which they have constructed their sense of ‘self’.

Unlike the mother who naturally cares for her family and puts their needs before her comfort, the father wants to provide and be seen as the head of the family.

Aided by the society, the African man has built his identity and masculinity around the twin roles of provider and the figure of overall authority, so he will do all in his power to ensure this is not threatened.

The killing, therefore, is a way of regaining control of, or obliterating, the impending crisis.

This explains why they will often not only kill their partner and children, but also destroy their property by setting fires.

It is an eradication of everything that constitutes the ‘self’ that he has constructed.

Those who knew these men prior to the moment they committed the atrocities said they ‘snapped’, but Dr Muga says the perpetrators did not commit the crimes spontaneously, but planned them.

Gerishom Aluda from Vihiga, for instance, forced his wife and four children in a room after supper then doused the house with petrol in the wee hours of the morning, while John Kiprono Kirui from Kuresoi County had sharpened his machetes early that morning in preparation for the killings that would follow later.

As the children played during the day, as they chased each other around the compound, he knew they would never see another sunrise, or grow into teenage, or celebrate their next birthdays.

Perhaps because of the harrowing and perplexing nature of these crimes, very little research effort has been put to study family annihilators in Africa, but a notable effort has been put towards filicidal murders, where the man kills his children but has no intention of ending his life.

British criminologists have studied the grim phenomenon, and their findings are used a lot to answer the whys and wherefores of this type of crime.

Investigators sought to understand what inspired family annihilators, and their findings returned remarkable resemblance to what Dr Muga believes is the push behind such murders.

The research spawned four taxonomical categories of the perpetrators, namely the self-righteous, the disappointed, the anomic and the paranoid.

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