In this SECOND and last instalment on the murder of Mweiga man Daniel Mwangi Wang’ondu, 32, we peep into the profile of Stephen Wang’ondu Kinini, his father, who is accused of ordering the killing. Why did the priest who presided over the burial on January 6th say what he said?
To defendants in criminal cases, courtrooms can be intimidating: The brownish wooden panels; seats fashioned off bricks; cops with faces that can freeze time; the curious stares; and a judge seated beneath a miniature court of arms – but wielding enormous power.
At 9:30am, Nyeri Law Courts, last Friday, Stephen Wang’ondu Kinini the man accused of paying hitmen to kill his son Daniel Mwangi, led the march towards the dock. Behind him were James Mahinda Mwangi, Charity Muchiri, Geoffrey Waturi, and Eddy Kariuki Ngari.
With the exception of Raphael Wachira, sixth suspect arraigned separately, the five had one thing in common: Diminutiveness. They are barely five foot tall, evoking that wisecrack by English playwright Noel Coward: “Never trust a man with short legs; his brains are far too near his bottom.”
Prior to this case, Wang’ondu was not short on freedom. He was accustomed to the Mweiga rangelands, whose comely hills are an invitation to amble. Wang’ondu is said to possess at least 100 acres. He has two wives Scholastica Wacuka, and Beatrice Njeri.
Through his company Stesco, the larger Nyeri and Kieni areas were (are?) Wang’ondu’s entrepreneurial playground. He has a stone crusher factory that produces tonnes of ballast – and noise-, a petrol station, several rental houses, and villagers say, hubris that often run amok.
“Akizunguka huku na Prado hakuwa anacheka na mtu (he’s a no-nonsense man; only saw him driving around in his Prado),” says James Wanjohi, a bodaboda rider in Mweiga town.
But in the dock, Wang’ondu looked subdued. Though his face was partially obscured by a COVID protection mask, veins were bulging from the sides of his head, face deadpan. In a different setting, he’d have been a grandfather sprinkling millet at magpies, and ‘killing time’ with his grandchildren.
The ballast-making factory is perched on a hill along the Mweiga-Nyahururu road, not very far from Wang’ondu’s sprawling family estate. At the entrance, there is a burnt-out, rusty shell of what looks like a FUSO truck cabin.
The shell is a locus that defines the relationship between Wang’ondu, factory proprietor, and residents of Honi village. In 2018, the residents were up in arms over alleged noise and air pollution by the factory.
Some claimed they had lost their relatives to dust inhalation-related illnesses. In the heat of the protests, a lorry went up in flames. Wang’ondu allegedly ordered that the shell be hoisted at the entrance, and continued milling his ballast. Mta-do?
“To some of us, his current legal woes are a case of ‘chicken coming home to roost’,” said a Honi resident who requested anonymity.
The stone-crusher was reportedly opened in October, 2015 and has requisite approvals from the National Environment Management Authority, and the Geology Department in the Environment Ministry.
In that tussling period, Wang’ondu claimed that a certain unnamed politician was inciting the locals against him. His statement, captured by a local television channel, was a window to Wang’ondu’s spell in school in years gone by: “He has said that any vehicle that coming here should spotted by the community, should take action. The action they should take is to destroy the property. That’s why we are not selling.” Phew!
Charles Ndung’u has worked for the Wang’ondu family for 30 years. On the morning of January 1st this year, he was adding time to this tally by planting Sukumawiki at a section of the 100-acre farm. Then he heard the wailing.
“I looked at my colleague here, our eyes met and we asked one another ‘what’s going on?’”, Ndung’u recounted to TV47 Digital in an interview last Friday. In a neighbourhood where the chirrup of weaverbirds counts as bedlam, the wailing meant something serious was amiss.
Ndung’u says he saw a van full of people driving towards Daniel Mwangi’s home. Others were in tow, on foot. He dropped his seedlings and followed.
He found Mwangi, the friend he had last seen the previous evening, slumped beside his red VW Golf at the entrance of his home. Dead. “I tried to speak but no words could come out of my mouth,” Ndung’u says. “It was shocking, shocking.”
Mwangi had apparently been hit on the head with a blunt object, and stabbed on the neck. Nothing was stolen from him.
Ndung’u says his father Wang’ondu arrived at the scene moments later, after when the neighbours fetched a blanket from the deceased’s house and covered him. From there on, it was police to pursue the killers- and justice- for the 32-year-old, snuffed out in his prime.
“Mwangi was a kind-hearted young man who will be greatly missed,” Mercy L. Ng’endo eulogised him. “RIP my friend and neighbour,” wrote Irene Kairu on Facebook. “Your home was home to my car when the road to my house was impassable. I will miss you son as I called you. Fare thee well.”
Mwangi was buried on January 6, only five days after his brutal murder. In clear testimony of his family’s popularity- and by extension, Mwangi’s- the funeral service at his farm was presided over by six priests. About 1,000 mourners were present.
It is what one of the priests said in his sermon that stirred the mourners. Ndung’u recalls: “The ones who did this act are probably here mourning with us. Yes, that’s a possibility. I will not mention any names but that is a possibility.”