Tag: East Africa

Kenyan woman’s pact to marry two men causes outrage

Two men in Kenya have agreed to marry the same woman, taking turns to stay with her and helping raise her children.

Joyce Wambui had been torn between two lovers for more than four years and was unable to choose between them. So she joined in a contract stipulating that Sylvester Mwendwa and Elijah Kimani would “share” her.

But Mwendwa’s decision to go public about the unusual deal has infuriated Wambui, cost him his job and forced him into hiding to escape a public backlash in Kisauni, Mombasa.

The 26-year-old told the BBC that he entered a pact with Kimani to end their rivalry. “It could have been very dangerous if the other man would have come to her house and caught me,” he said. “So our agreement is good as it sets boundaries and helps us keep peace.”

He claimed Wambui’s parents had given her their blessing, adding: “She is like the central referee. She can say whether she wants me or my colleague.”

Wambui, a widow and mother of young twins, is said to be in her late 20s. In a separate interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, Mwendwa explained: “It’s not because she is a superwoman, but because she is a hard worker and very beautiful.”

(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)
(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)

The unusual arrangement came about after the intervention of Abdhallah Abdulrahman, a community policing officer. “The two men were quarrelling and I wanted to know what they were quarrelling about,” he said. “I found out they were sharing one woman without knowing each other. I wanted the woman to decide which she loved and agree to stay with one. Unfortunately, she refused to decide. She said, ‘I love both of them, I’m not ready to lose them.’

“Both men refused to surrender the woman. They assured me they’re going for a discussion where they’ll settle the differences themselves. They surprised me when they said they had agreed to be together.”

Abdulrahman said he was strongly opposed to the contract. “To me as a Muslim and a Kenyan, I don’t accept it,” he added. “It is against our religion and our African tradition. It is against Kenyan law. Under our Constitution it is not allowed. The community are disappointed and everybody is against it. Sylvester Mwendwa is now in hiding, saying his life is in danger.”

Mwendwa’s willingness to publicise the contract in national and international media has also caused a rift with Kimani and Wambui, putting the whole understanding in jeopardy. On Tuesday the Daily Nation reported that Mwendwa, a butcher, said his boss fired him after he heard the story, and he is reported to have gone into hiding.

Even if Wambui forgives him, there is little prospect of making the three-way marriage legal. Whereas polygamy – one man with multiple wives – is legal in Kenya and widely practised by various communities, polyandry is almost unknown.

According to Kenya’s NTV station, the contract states: “We have agreed that from today we will not threaten or have jealous feelings because of our wife, who says she’s not ready to let go of any of us. Each one will respect the day set aside for him. We agree to love each other and live peacefully. No one has forced us to make this agreement.”

David Smith for the Guardian

Senior citizens? No, senior students

At 5pm every day, the streets of Nairobi are flooded with people spilling out of their offices and queuing at the nearest bus depot to catch their buses and matatus home. Joyce is one of them but she’s not rushing to get home in time for her favorite soapie or a glass of wine. She’s rushing to get to class. Joyce is a part time MBA student. Big deal, you think?  Well, it sort of is.

A mother of three adult children, 56-year-old Joyce is four years away from retirement. She is employed as a secretary at a government ministry in Kenya. When she started working thirty years ago, her certificate in Secretarial Studies from the Polytechnic of Kenya was enough to get her a job and enable her to house, clothe and feed her children. But, as it happens, times changed, and Joyce had to change as well. A certificate will not get you very far in Kenya today, and anything less than a university degree is not considered a worthwhile qualification. At her age, Joyce is not trying to get a promotion – the time for that has passed. She’s trying to learn as much as she can now, to prepare for her retirement. Joyce, who is also a part-time farmer, always loved business. At the age of 50 she decided to enrol for a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree. She studied, farmed and worked part time, and five years later she graduated with her BBA degree. Why stop now, she thought. In 2012, Joyce enrolled in an MBA program at Kenyatta University.

“I don’t want my life to stop when I retire, I want it to start,” Joyce says. She had to take a loan out to cover her tuition fees but she is confident that her time and effort will pay off once she is a full-time, successful farmer.

(Pic: Flickr/rnav1234)
(Pic: Flickr/rnav1234)

Her choice to continue studying may be unusual but she’s not alone. Thousands of older Kenyans are enrolled in part-time undergraduate and post-graduate programs, all of them wanting to make their dreams of a tertiary education finally come true. Take Juliet for example. By day, Juliet is a nursery school teacher, rhyming out ABCs to restless four-year-olds, but by night and weekend, Juliet is a Psychology of Childhood Development student at a college in Nairobi. There is also Claire, a corner kiosk owner. She runs her business fulltime but takes accounting courses over the weekend.

All the women I have met and spoken with are not just students. They are mothers, grandmothers, wives and caretakers and their student status does not exempt them from their other traditional domestic duties. Culture is still largely unforgiving to the Kenyan woman that doesn’t cook, clean and keep an organised household. By any standards, these women have at least three jobs, but for them, their student status is one they wear with pride because it is a choice they made for themselves.

From as early as I can remember, I was taught that a good education was what would make all my dreams come true. My parents often told me to get better grades or suffer a beating. At some point during my pimple-popping teens and great depression over my nonexistent hips, my mother told me quite bluntly that my looks would get me nowhere in this life, but my brain would get me everywhere. The power of the book is preached fervently to all children in Kenya, and academic competition is as bloodthirsty as a boxing match. I always just knew that after high school I was going to a university and that I was going to get a degree. This was never something I questioned, as far as I knew it was a fact.

This was not the case for our mothers and fathers. In their time, tertiary education was for the extremely bright and well-to-do. Only so many people could get scholarships, and at that time, only a select few had degrees. Now that tertiary education is no longer a luxury but a necessity, our parents’ generation is taking every opportunity available to obtain those degrees that were been denied to them so many years ago.

I’m fortunate to be doing what I always wanted to do: write. I doubt that Joyce wanted to be a secretary, or Juliet a nursery school teacher. But luckily for them, they have a second chance to do what they have always dreamed of doing. Despite the challenges – time, money, late nights – sitting in that lecture hall and feeling that your life’s purpose is finally coming to fruition is the price Joyce, Juliet and Claire are willing to pay.

Sheena Gimase is a Kenyan-born and Africa-raised critical feminist writer, blogger, researcher and thought provocateur. She’s lived and loved in Kenya, Tanzania, ZimbabweZambia, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Sheena strongly believes in the power of the written word to transform people, cultures and communities. Read her blog and connect with her on Twitter.

Kenya: All a-Twitter about everything

A few weeks ago, I walked into a friend’s house to find a raucous argument going on. I didn’t know what the exact topic of the argument was, but the bottles of wine and beer on the table indicated that it had veered off course a long time before. The argument reached an impasse and could only be resolved in one way: Google. As the only sober one in the room, the task befell me. I asked for a phone. Tap. Tap. Tap. We had the answer. The argument was over. All was well in the world. The gods of the internet had spoken through the high priest of the smartphone.

The internet-enabled phone has changed many Kenyans’ relationship with the internet. According to the Communication Commission of Kenya, 99% of the country’s 16 million internet connections are on mobile devices. Advertising campaigns by the mobile network operators coupled with low-cost smartphones such as the Intel Yolo and the Huawei Ideos and declining costs of data have seen mobile data consumption grow at 75% year on year.

Increased access to the internet has had some very interesting results and opened some doors into the Kenyan psyche, thanks especially to Twitter.

(Flickr / Slava Murava Kiss)
(Flickr / Slava Murava Kiss)

Kenya is Africa’s second most active country on Twitter. The microblogging service has provided the perfect tool for Kenyan youth wanting to be heard and seeking validation. It offers the option for anonymity and has a numeric metric for validation in the form of number of followers. We will often put out an update, then keep checking out mentions, waiting to see how many retweets and favourites we have garnered. Just like in any society, there are people at the top of the ladder. On Twitter, they’re the bigwigs with over 10 000 followers (as of the last informal definition). These users are regarded as trendsetters and opinion influencers.

Kenyans on Twitter – #KOT as they are known – are quick to weigh in on everything and anything. They’ve even achieved global recognition on several occasions. It started with #Makmende, a campaign that resulted in Kenya’s first viral music video and the country’s own Chuck Norris.

Shortly after that, there was #RutoPlaylist which  Kenyans used to suggest songs for deputy president William Ruto to listen to on his iPod during his trip to the Hague for his ICC trial. In March this year, they used the #SomeoneTellCNN hashtag to mock the television network’s election reporting. Most recently, Kenyans went to war with Nigerians, using #SomeoneTellNigeria to vent about how the Kenyan football team was being treated in Nigeria. So mighty are #KOT that at the peak of Nigeria-Kenya tiff, Kenya was producing tweets at 6 times the rate Nigerians were even though Nigeria’s internet population is over four times greater.

Kenyans on Twitter have also done some inspiring things. In November 2012 when Nairobi’s public transport providers went on strike, #KOT started #CarPoolKE, an initiative which saw car owners give rides to stranded commuters for free. Another initiative that has enjoyed success on Twitter is Wanadamu (meaning “We have blood”). This service puts out calls for blood donations to supplement Kenya’s overstretched blood banks in cases of accidents, surgeries and blood shortages.

On the downside and as can be expected, there’s some not-so-pleasant activity. Cyber bulling and trolling is on the rise and #KOT often latch on to on a trending topic, throwing acerbic jabs to seek validation from the bigwigs through LOLs, retweets and faves. As funny as their insults may be, they actually cause significant damage to the recipient. In some cases, the “victims” commit twittercide (delete their Twitter accounts for good).

Kenyans’ use of the internet is not just limited to Twitter, though. One dark, rainy evening I caught a taxi driven by a 60-year-old fellow who knew very little English. When I gave him my destination, I expected to see him furrow his brow and ask me to direct him. Instead he picked up his phone and started tapping away.

“Nini hiyo?” (What is that?)

“Ngoongoo Maps! Hata mimi ni ndingito!” (Google Maps. I am digital too!)

Sure enough, he got me to where I was going without any problems.

Joel Macharia (@themacharia) is the founder of the online consumer finance publication pesatalk.com and the agribusiness start-up Sagana Farms. He is one of 10 young Africans shortlisted to be a One Young World delegate at this year’s summit. At this event, the M&G’s Trevor Ncube will be chairing a session on African media and what Africans think of their journalists. To share your views, complete this short survey.



Car shopping with the help of Dar Es Salaam’s taximen

It may be that nothing brings out a man’s emotional side quite like helping a woman buy a car.

A few months ago I lost Maggie, my trusty chariot of several years. She was a big-hearted Suzuki Jimny that could never go above 60kph, but had enough 4-wheel drive muscle to pull cars three times her weight out of bogs. I named her Maggie, like Thatcher, a solid name for a tough can-do broad. Even the rainy-season potholes of Dar were no deterrent to her. While thousands driving lesser cars got stranded in the suburbs at the slightest tropical downpour, Maggie would confidently navigate the dangerous rapids at Shopper’s Plaza bridge, not to mention the deceptively deep Lake Millenium towers – both on important tarmac roads connecting to the city.

But she’s gone now. While I know that nothing will ever feel as perfect as her gearshift cupped in my hand or the way her engine growled on cool mornings like a smoker waking up, I can’t help trying to look for a car that has some of her spirit. Good news came recently – one of my taximen had found another fiesty little Suzuki that I might be interested in.

Let me explain a little bit about the real taximen of Dar es Salaam. They are amazing. In the course of a couple of years, you can build relationships of trust usually only enjoyed between a client and her lawyer or a patient and her doctor. They’re the guys who will pick your kids up from school, buy your utilities when you run out, deposit cash at the bank and never charge your Mama when she sends them on an emergency trip because they know to bring the bill to you.

Nothing is beyond them, not a 3am am pick-up at Julius Nyerere International nor a hunt for an affordable apartment in the mixed neighborhoods off the Old and New Bagamoyo roads. I put out the word about a month ago that I was in the market for a new ride. My taximen understood what kind of car might pass muster as a replacement so when Tony called me about a potential candidate, I knew I was in safe hands.

Little did I realise how much my knights in shining motor vehicles would invest in the quest! Or how dramatic they can be. As I took the potential purchase for a test drive it was impossible not to smile at the guys – two taximen and a mechanic – who came along. They preened over my familiarity with a manual transmission. You’d think I had performed cardiac surgery.

(Pic: Flickr/Daniel Oines)
(Pic: Flickr/Daniel Oines)

Yet within hours of kicking the tyres of this potential purchase I had to counsel Tony, who was having a meltdown about hidden costs. The next day I had to calm down Mwinyi who could barely speak through his tears because he couldn’t get hold of me for two hours in morning to warn me about the hazards of a V6 engine. I was in a meeting for goodness sake! If these men weren’t so damn cute with their concern, this would be a very vexing situation.

What does a feminist like me do with such chivalry, when I have always considered it the other side of the chauvinism coin? I don’t know what kind of women they hang out with – all the best drivers I know are hardcore stick-shift women who drive like girls and thus keep their beloved cars roadworthy and unscratched for decades. I usually take my cue from these capable dames, but in this situation it just seemed churlish not to let my taximen lead the way. Hysteria included.

Because no matter how hard I tried to detect any condescension or outright patronising I just couldn’t. Mwinyi taught me everything I know about preventing salt-air corrosion in the car body, the regular replacement of spark plugs, fan belts and oil seals. They are inordinately proud of my independent lifestyle – especially the part where I can drive a stick shift. Haji and Saidi debate politics with me and have helped me out of more than one tight spot in life. If getting a little unhinged in their zeal to help me secure a new car is part of the deal, what’s a bit of craziness between friends?

It is not just the taximen in Dar who are crunchy on the outside and squishy on the inside, which is secretly one of my favourite Swahili Coast quirks. I’m not crazy, I do like a man who is in touch with his inner mother hen. But when you actually have to deal with that from your male support group? Eish. It can be overwhelming. I don’t know if the sale will go through, the owner is a tough but fair businesswoman and we’re facing off over the last couple of hundred thousand shillings. Wish me luck. No seriously, wish me luck. The mental health of my friends is hanging in the balance, bless their sweet and sensitive souls.

Elsie Eyakuze is a freelance consultant in print and online media from Tanzania, working mainly in the development sector. She blogs at mikochenireport.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter.

Jesus Inc: Paying for miracles to happen

A man wobbled across the podium leaning heavily on his crutches as the preacher beckoned to him with outstretched hands. The mammoth crowd at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi fell silent in anticipation. The preacher asked the man a few questions and then boomed into the mic: “In the name of Jesus I command you to walk!” The man immediately threw down his crutches and trod unsteadily around the stage. The crowd burst into delirium. Some people fainted.

My colleague who was standing besides me shook with quiet laughter. He knew the “disabled” guy, Joel, since they both live in the Kangemi neighbourhood. Joel is a hopeless drunkard. To finance his drinking habit, he takes on casual jobs – like this one.

Kenyan worshippers are seeking divinity in “miracle” churches and dubious pastors who’ve sprung up all around the country. They command a huge following and are raking in money – millions, even – through, among other things, their claims of miracle healing. One session can cost as much as R300. In addition to this and weekly donations from congregants, the pastors sell anointing oils which cost between R15 to R50 a bottle. The oils have a short shelf life – anything from a few days to a month – so believers have to stock up on them regularly to keep “miracles” flowing in their lives.  No wonder, then, that these religious leaders can afford posh mansions and Range Rovers – and that they make the news for the wrong reasons.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Take Pastor Michael Njoroge of Fire Ministries, who reportedly slept with a prostitute last year and then hired her for R200 to attend his Sunday mass service with a disfigured mouth. With a cloth covering her mouth, sobbing because of her shame, the woman performed like a pro in front of cameras. Njoroge, who has a slot on a Christian TV station, prayed for her at his service. The next day she was back in his church with a perfect mouth, giving testimony of the miracle in front of a transfixed crowd. Soon after the incident Njoroge was exposed by Kenyan news channel NTV but his loyal congregants stood by him.

Then there’s the billionaire businessman, politician and pastor Kamlesh Pattni, who was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government of Sh58-billion in the Goldenberg scandal. He was cleared of the charges in April 2013 but not of his notoriety.  Pattni has established his own church and provides a free lunch to his growing congregation every Sunday. Who doesn’t want a free meal?

Pattni could soon be receiving a hefty Kh4-billion of taxpayers’ money after winning a legal tussle over exclusive rights to duty-free shops in two Kenyan airports. The hefty award, however, is being challenged.

Let’s not forget Pastor Maina Njenga, the former leader of Mungiki, a criminal gang known for extortion, ethnic violence, female genital mutilation and other horrific crimes including the beheading and skinning in its strongholds in Nairobi and central Kenya.  He spent a long stint in jail and was released from prison in 2009. Njenga then became a born-again Christian, and set up Hope International Ministries. He professed that he changed his life around but few believe him

Like many Kenyan pastors, he was quick to enter business and politics too. Last year he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential race but quit due to a lack of funds.

Money troubles are not something Bishop Allan Kiuna and his wife Reverend Kathy have to worry about. The influential, doting couple run the Jubilee Christian Centre in Nairobi which has an ‘international media ministry’ with video and music production and book publishing. They’ve come under fire for their luxurious lifestyle on social media, but Reverend Kathy makes no apologies. “We serve a prosperity God,” Kathy said in an interview with True Love magazine. “God wants us to be prosperous in every single way. His desire for us is to walk in abundance. I am praying for church people to show the likes of Bill Gates dust!”

But the gold prize for the miracles business goes to Kenyan Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who was previously based in Peckham, UK. The evangelical pastor who has been photographed with European royalty, prime ministers and presidents engineered a miracle babies scam, claiming to be able to make infertile women fall pregnant. British women travelled to Kenya to “give birth”, but were actually given babies that the pastor and his wife Mary had stolen or abducted. Suspicions were raised when a woman claimed to give birth to three ‘miracle’ babies in a year, prompting an investigation. DNA testing also revealed that there was no genetic link between the women and the babies they’d apparently given birth to.

Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)
Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)

Mary was eventually arrested in 2004 for stealing a baby from a Nairobi hospital and passing it off as her own. She is currently in prison for child-trafficking.  Deya was arrested in 2006 in London and has since been fighting his extradition from the UK to face charges of child theft in Kenya. He has denied the charges, but this particular quote stands out –  of course, it was all God’s idea: “I have been judged by the media as a child trafficker, which is a slave trade, but miracles have happened. God has used me and I tell you God cannot use a criminal. They are miracles.”

Given the numerous scams orchestrated in the name of God, it’s no surprise that a generation of young Kenyans is becoming increasingly sceptical about religion. However, it’s a pity that there are still plenty of desperate and ignorant Kenyans around to keep the Jesus Inc industry flourishing.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at thepeculiarkenyan.wordpress.com