Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains graphic details and images that may be upsetting to some readers.
At 30, Dianah Kamande was in a hospital fighting for her life with massive head injuries sustained during a domestic altercation. She had just lost her husband to suicide. He had tried to kill her before stabbing himself in the abdomen. There was no time to process the events that had occurred that evening; she had two young daughters to raise and a long road ahead to clear her name.
Life was normal for Dianah in 2013. She was a wife and mother to two beautiful daughters and had a good job.
“I viewed my husband as a good man overall,” Dianah told The Weight She Carries. “He loved his children. There was no physical abuse in my marriage, and this is where so many women go wrong. I was going through a lot of abuse, but I kept on saying I never went through abuse because I thought abuse was only physical. He built a cocoon for me. I went through something known as social abuse. I was not able to socialize with people. My husband believed it was just me and him.”
While she said he was abusive in other ways, Dianah’s husband didn’t become physically abusive until 10 years into the marriage.
Dianah remembers that night in 2013 so well. It was a Friday. A church friend was getting married that weekend, and Dianah was heavily involved in the preparations. She was part of the wedding committee, and her daughters were flower girls. So she left work early and headed to the church to help decorate the venue.
“I told him I was going to use public means so that I could be able to go and prepare the girls for the wedding, but I was going to pass by the church,” she said. “Afterwards, on my way home, I forgot to call him to inform him that I had left church. He called me and asked, ‘Are you done? Why didn’t you call me when you left?”
This was against his rules. Dianah apologized to appease him but he would not accept her apology, she said.
“Then he asked me what I was cooking for dinner. I told him the kids had asked for rice and beans. ‘I am not eating rice and beans. I’m going to eat ugali and fried meat,’ he said. I agreed and told him we didn’t need to keep fighting over small things.”
Dianah went to the butchery, got some meat and prepared dinner. Later on, she heard someone banging on the door. It sounded like the police, but when she went to the door to check, she discovered that it was her husband. She immediately sensed that something was wrong; he seemed agitated.
Dianah rushed to the kitchen and dished his food, hoping that would set him at ease. Then she went to their bedroom. He followed her, told her he didn’t want her food and left the house. Exhausted from the day’s activities, Dianah prepared her girls for bed and, before going to sleep herself, attempted to call her husband. He didn’t answer. She tried a few more times and then settled for a text message letting him know she was going to bed.
“I was woken up by something that was very warm and painful on my face, on my left side of my face,” she said. “I didn’t know it was blood because it was still dark in the bedroom. The only thing that came to my mind was that someone had broken into our house. Something told me to turn on the bedside [lamp]. I was shocked to see that it was him, holding a two-edged sword that had blood on it. I asked him why he was doing this to me.
‘We are dying, all of us, in this house today. I’m killing you, killing the children, and then I’ll kill myself.’
He proceeded to attack Dianah again with the sword and slashed her 21 times in the head, she said. Now on the floor, she crawled under the bed and lay still.
“I pretended I was dead.”
Dianah’s house help, who had left the house briefly, returned. Once she saw the blood, she took off screaming for help. Dianah heard her husband call his mother and instruct her to tell Dianah’s mother that he had killed her daughter.
‘I want to kill her grandchildren and kill myself. Prepare four graves,’ he said. The second call was to his employer, telling him to find another employee.
The third phone call was to Dianah’s dad. Dianah listened in shock as her husband relayed the same message to her father.
“He was so sure that I was dead that he left the bedroom, went to the kitchen and took a knife,” she said. “I knew this because I heard my firstborn daughter scream for help. I decided to come out of my hiding place. I would rather die than my children. My sisters could take care of my children; my mother could take care of my children, but I could not let my children die.”Dianah Kamande
Dianah made her way to the kids’ room and found her husband just about to stab her oldest daughter, who was 8 years old. He was shocked to see her alive. Right then, Dianah’s sister and brother-in-law came to the house. They had been alerted to the situation by the house help. They rushed the children to safety, but Dianah remained in danger. Her husband attempted to slash her neck, but Dianah used her left arm to defend herself.
“This is how I ended up with a deep cut and seven metal plates fixed in my left hand,” she said. “I became numb. But I found myself not feeling any pain.”
A neighbor who had also come to the house to help threatened Dianah’s husband, telling him that if he struck her again, he would round up the neighbors and do the same to him.
“My husband’s final words were, ‘Go die in the hospital; I’m going to die here.’ And he did exactly that. He killed himself. As soon as we left, he took the same knife and stabbed himself, cutting his small intestines. And that’s how he died.”
Dianah underwent a seven-hour surgery and began the long road to recovery in the hospital. Meanwhile, her husband’s family went to her house and took away all her possessions without permission.
Dianah’s story went viral across Kenya and many well-wishers flooded her hospital room, many of whom she didn’t know. Many of these strangers shared that they, too, had lost everything they owned to their in-laws when their husbands died.
“’This is normal,’ is what they kept telling me, but I said, ‘No, this is not normal and cannot be normal on my watch.’”Dianah Kamande
With one arm in a sling, Dianah used the other hand to write down the things widows were telling her about their experiences.
She remained in the hospital for two months but there was a battle waiting for her after she was discharged. Her in-laws were adamant that she was responsible for their son’s death and wanted justice.
“The same day I was served with a summons to appear in court was the day I received a termination letter from my job. I lost my job when I needed it the most. I had children to raise, bills to pay, and now I needed a lawyer. It was tough. I faced a lot of widow abuse. With everything in the house taken by my in-laws, I started sleeping on a [cardboard] box for a mattress.”Dianah Kamande
For almost a year and a half, Dianah was fighting murder charges. And it wasn’t until after her husband’s death that she learned that her husband had another family.
The other woman knew about Dianah. In fact, when she learned that Dianah’s husband had committed suicide, she sought Dianah out wanting to know what part of the inheritance she was entitled to.
“I lived with this man for 10 years, yet I didn’t know that he had another wife for eight years.”Dianah Kamande
Dianah’s husband dropped her off at work every day and picked her up in the evenings. Her life revolved around him. As she attended to the children and household chores in the evenings, he would often find an excuse to leave the house for a few hours.
“He would say he was going to meet his friends, or he would tell me that he had to travel. I think those were the times he would visit his other family. I remember my husband lying to me that his cousin was admitted to hospital, and he needed me to send him money to help pay the hospital bill. I went ahead and sent him the money. Later on, the other woman confirmed that I am the one who sent money for her to deliver my husband’s baby.”
The revelation was crushing. Her entire world had collapsed. But there was no time to grieve everything she had lost. There were more pressing things on her plate, like how she was going to feed her children.
“My kids, not once, not twice…went to school without food. Countless number of days we survived on less than $1. My kids ate from trashcans because I couldn’t afford to feed them. Sometimes women would mock me, ‘You can’t see that your children are eating from the trash?’ But what could I do? They didn’t know my situation, and I was actually relieved when my kids found something to put in their stomachs. It was the toughest time of my life.”Dianah Kamande
“I had a lot of huge debts to pay. My husband left me with a loan; he had asked me to take a loan in my name to build a house in the village. When he died, I remained with a loan of $12,000 in the bank, but God came through for me even in my toughest times.”
Meanwhile, Dianah continued to go to court to clear her name. Then, she got a break. One commanding officer from the police station gave a witness statement. His position carried a lot of weight, and she was eventually cleared of the charges.
“If it wasn’t for that testimony, I could be speaking to you from behind bars because my husband’s family wanted me jailed for a crime I never committed,” she said. “This is where now my passion grew. I began to wonder how many widows are behind bars for crimes they never committed? Society will always judge a woman very harshly. So, I just decided to start an organization that is going to champion for the rights of widows, survivors of gender-based violence and the rights of orphans.”
Dianah founded a community-based organization called Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO) that later became a non-governmental organization. Even though she had no money, she was determined to never see other widows experience the prejudice and injustice she had experienced. It was a long journey, but today CTWOO provides a number of essential services and programs for widows and children in need.
Dianah co-authored a bill in Kenya to protect widows from cultural practices that stripped them of their rights to inheritance when their husbands die. On December 20, 2019, she received recognition for her work by the founder of Ladies of All Nations (LOANI), Dr. Caroline Makaka.
In 2018, she was awarded the Head of State Commendation (HSC) by H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya for her exemplary work.
Dianah has also been presented with the Unwavering Advocacy Award by Heather Ibrahim Leathers, founder of Global Fund for Widows, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by Women in Business.
“I know how it feels as a mother finding your babies in trash cans. Sometimes you have to go through it to understand it better. And this is why I will always champion for the rights of those widows who don’t have anybody to speak on their behalf.”Dianah Kamande
CTWOO has continued to grow over the years, relying on the generosity of donors.
Dianah is also thriving in her personal life. She has found love in a man who treasures her and her girls.
“I believe that God brings the right people into our lives at the right time. Something I would tell a woman is you don’t have to remain in the mud. Just because somebody tried to make you look like a pig doesn’t mean you belong in the mud.”Dianah Kamande
To donate to CTWOO visit www.cometogewoo.org, or select one of the options below:
- PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Name: Dianah Kamande
- PAYBILL NUMBER: 4029363
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Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.