Tag: Polygamy Bill

What’s the point of polygamy?

Do you have a concubine, a ‘side dish’ or a ‘small house’? In Kenya, now is apparently the time to bring them out so they can be registered officially. Do not be shy, do not hide them. It is time to make the illicit clean and chaste.

It’s been official as of March 20 2014, when a Bill allowing polygamy was passed by our Parliament. If you’re married to a Kenyan man, he can bring home the other woman without your consent – and with the government’s blessings.

One MP, Junet Mohammed, even told her colleagues, “When you marry an African woman she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife..”

But the question is, why?

What do African men need with all these women? What good does it do to the women in the relationship or even the men themselves?

To answer that, I think one must tackle a more important question: What is the point of polygamy? What is the basis for it other than men wanting to have more than one ‘honey’ and a host of different places to sleep at night?

There have been a number of arguments for the role of polygamy within tradition, but none remains as strong as the core one: “It’s our culture”.

As much as we must pay homage to culture, we need to remember it is based on the needs of society and is not static. We must analyse if the reasons for having a particular tradition still hold true.

In the case of polygamy, one can see why the reasons for this practice no longer apply.

Firstly, the economy in Kenya is not what it used to be. The boom that we saw at the beginning of the Kibaki regime has stalled, halted (and some say even reversed) in the past years. The price of food has risen and there is barely enough money going around for people to run one household, let alone two, three or four. Having one household is not a cultural or moral issue; it is just good business sense.

What tends to happen to the average woman in a polygamous relationship is that one household suffers at the expense of another. When one household starts living the good life (cars, expensive schools, holidays etc), funds are diverted from another household. The man benefits regardless of which wife has these ‘perks’, but it’s not an equal arrangement for the women (and children) involved.

On argument that stems from ‘pre-colonial times’ is that polygamy was a way of empire-building. A full house was a powerful house. Children were seen as a source of wealth. However, in this day and age, one need only look at the price of higher education and the children-turned-adults who live with their parents for extended periods of time, sometimes till the ripe old age of 30. Children are not the investment they used to be.

Furthermore, with the rise of absentee fathers in our society, one must question whether men can really be entrusted with the responsibility of parenting children in multiple households when some can barely manage being a father in one.  The strange thing is that these very men who are already negligent of their parental responsibilities are the most vocal about wanting multiple households.

Other reasons for polygamy hold equally as little weight:

  • It is a form of birth control for women: No, we have the pill now.
  • For political alliances: Now you can merely join your local political party. They will handle the alliances on your behalf. Or you can run for office yourself.
  • Agricultural manpower: Children helped farm the earth for food. Well, try going to your local supermarket today with more than two family members and then explain this to me as a justification for polygamy.
  • For male sexual gratification: Now this one is a good one. The world has gone through waves of sexual revolutions and women are no longer passive participants in sex.  The statistics are that a large majority of heterosexual women have never had an orgasm. Handle one woman first, then we can talk.

And if we are going to have polygamy then why can we not have polyandry? If men can be seen to run more than one household then, in the spirit of gender equality, should the same courtesy not be extended to women? Give the average woman an Excel spreadsheet, a car with fuel and some stretching exercises to keep limber and in top shape and watch her show you what running more than one household is about.

A great number of households already suffer from a chronic case of absentee fathers and ‘men-missing-till-midnight’ syndrome. Should we really then institutionalise a practice that is already being somewhat abused? Or could this law possibly strengthen the entire sordid situation by giving women and children who remain in vulnerable situations legal rights?

Could this law possibly be a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, register them’?

I believe there are many men who do not understand the emotional, financial and social responsibilities that come with polygamy. We need to figure out why exactly polygamy is so important outside of being ‘part of tradition’. And if we cannot answer this question then we should not be engaging in polygamy.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of holaafrica.org, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter@tiffmugo

Legalise polygamy for both men and women

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

By now you will have heard,  in the most recent instance of testicular politics,  that Kenya’s Parliament recently passed a Bill that will recognise what they call ‘polygamous unions’. Apparently there haven’t been any real legal provisions for this form of marriage to date, except for citizens of the Muslim faith through the Kadhi court system.

What makes this Bill notable is the fact that the male legislators – the majority – managed to get rid of a clause in the Bill that would require consent on the part of current spouses before a man could bring another contracted partner into his domestic situation. If the Bill is signed into law, wives who have enjoyed a legal monopoly on matrimonial benefits are going to lose their security of tenure just like that. Take note: Kenyan women can’t legally marry multiple men.

If I had a suspicious nature I would imply that judicious pillow-lobbying on the part of shrewd girlfriends and concubines probably explains the enthusiasm with which the Bill was passed. But did they have to turn the contract of marriage into a form of Russian roulette for all other women while they were at it? Of course this Bill deserved a protest. So I stand in solidarity with women of Kenya in terms of opposing this law.

I am disappointed to have to do so because I am very much in support of legalising polygamous marriage and have been for much of my life. Freedom and fair play, say I, and if people have to sign a legal contract for reproductive purposes then let’s at least offer every citizen the same range of flavours.

How did I get so corrupted? Simple, really. Catholic Mathematics.

When I was growing up in one of those delightfully cosmopolitan yet shockingly conservative “middle-class” families, I learned about the birds and the bees and the morality thereof. One man plus one woman plus some love equals legitimate offspring, full stop. Real life, though, didn’t make this lesson convincing. I highly recommend that all children supplement their social education by eavesdropping on their mothers’ conversations with her friends.

Sifting through rants about husbands’ secretaries who wear miniskirts and suchlike, I realised that things were not adding up. All unmarried women were chaste, married women were faithful and men couldn’t keep their zippers closed. Catholic Mathematics? I might not have been in secondary school but I could do addition and percentages. Someone wasn’t being forthright about these birds and bees.

The one who truly sank me, though, was the Zanzibari gentleman who moved next door when I was about eight or so. He had two lovely spouses: a plump older light-skinned one and a slim, shy, dark-skinned younger wife. Not only did they smell deliciously of incense and pilau spices, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and any opportunity to lavish food and attention on anyone who walked through the door. They seemed happier and healthier than all the desiccated diplomatic wives who darkened our doors with gin and bitterness.

So I thought: yes. People grow up aspiring to their fantasies of fulfillment, be it financial security, fame, power, whatever. Me? Two husbands, maybe three. One to go out and make some serious bacon and wear bespoke suits with great ties to feed my craving for some alpha male. One to stick around at home and make sure the kids get to bed on time and we’re all eating enough greens and bully me into getting a pedicure. One to be the Saturday night special: excitingly undependable, prone to adventures that might land us in jail, entirely too charming and handsome for his own good.

What will I be doing? Well either recovering from a night out with Number Three or chairing a board or simply co-ordinating and popping out and loving the United Colors of Benetton offspring of our unconventional family. I said it was a fantasy. But when these things take root in your formative years, there’s no getting past it.

To lay the Catholic Mathematics to rest, I had to figure out a moral basis for it that works for me and it has to do with polyamorous principles. Turns out it’s entirely possible, and also sane. As usual the laws and legal system are not keeping pace with the progressive nature of our contemporary society. I am only angry with Kenya because this crusade is personal and they have made it difficult for everybody for chauvinist reasons.

Polygamy, mostly polyandry, has always been around and in principle I have no beef with it. But the point is, and always is, to be fair when it comes to legislation. You can’t refuse people rights because of their race, their religion or their just about anything unless you’re unspeakably heinous. So why is it still okay to get gender politics wrong?

By all means, let us condemn this silly Kenyan polygamy Bill and all that it represents. In the meanwhile, though, if anyone is writing up a real progressive alternative please swing it my way. There are guys out there to marry simultaneously and this woman is trying not to run out of time and available options, not to mention patience.

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.