Saturday, May 3, 2014

President Kenyatta of Kenyatta and the politics of polygyny, polygamy and polyandry?

                          In the morning I learned about polygyny from an anthropologist whom I call anthropo because of his funny ways of teaching. Polygyny allows a man to marry more than one wife. I learned too that in countries where more than one wife is permitted, polyandry where a woman can marry more than one husband has been run out of the gates! 
Wikipedia map of Polygamy and legality. Black represents the color of countries where
polygamy is legalhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygyny#Kenya

Nothing that encourages polygamy could be further in the way of a of Kenya of independent thinking. What the step forward in dealing with Kenyan polygamy of late was that if a man wanted to take another wife and they were of course married under one of the many accepted marriage forms in the law of Kenya that accepts polygyny that man had to have the permission of his first wife. 

Yes, the voice of woman was going to count on if another woman can come in. The last time my grandmother's opinion was sought on that, her answer was a terrific "Nooh!" and she was a single survivor of polygamy in a union of three. She counted the pains that the children she knew would experience and the issue died there and then. 

Only two of my neighbours in rural Kenya were polygamous families. In all my school life such families were in the minority in different regions. Something odd here. Kenya now presents itself as country of over 76% Christian faith confessors. There is a deep question of hypocrisy then? Most of those in Parliament and other positions of power do not have the guts to campaign as atheists. They use the Christian faith as a source of supporters.

There was more consultation in polygamous set ups than we reveal. But this one of the modern woman has been rejected and the President of Kenya in 2014 has signed into law the bill that has taken this step back.


In many places in Kenya, marriage has a way of revealing itself with regard to land and other property rights at the funeral of a man. It is often reported that then a woman whom nobody knew of turns up yelling that this is her man and she produces some mournful children at the same time and if possible gets into the way of the burial stopping it. 
Marriage turns up at funerals often in Kenya
Source BBC News and AFP pic. 

Some do that legally before the day of burial. There was a recent case in which a woman quickly cremated her man before the others turned up and that in a place where polygamy is recognised. 

Clearly much turbulence at the family level shows up at that time. We needed a change, a hand that begins to decrease this unhealthy secrecy and yes, a hand that with its leadership finally rules polygyny out. We are still missing that hand of power.

Everything that affirms more responsible paternity in Kenya should be the focus. This is overlooked. The plural male politicians do not see it as their duty to right society, to take on burdens of the nation. They see it just like the fetching of water in the past, the cleaning and the hard work of making sure the family is well fed as the work of the woman. This cannot be.

It is true that elected women in Kenya must fight really hard to be heard and to make a difference. It can be argued that they are the ones that must because of their salary and voice change Kenya but this is actually the work of all those in power. This is a patriarchal set up and women cannot do by themselves what all the men who are also elected by women voters should be doing for the good of the country. 

In Kenya it is still usually the man who marries a woman. So he can opt for: Civic, traditional, Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Muslim law in marriage. What is chosen bind the two of them in that pact as according to its singular law.  But polygyny which remains as polygamy is retrogressive no matter how one looks at it. It is simply difficult to fend for more than one wife and children. 

In the past, life was organised in a different way and being African as I heard the President emphasise with regard to the media law does not keep us from changing we are just humans. In this age and time I do not hear anyone emphasising on being European, Asian or American... be more and more Australian. I hear more of look out for human values, for what binds us. But that is another topic.

Polygamy and power

When one looks at the world and how it has handled polygamy, there is a clear connection between polygyny and the politics of clans and tribes. Kenyatta Kenyatta who signed polygamy into law in Kenya the other day is writing a dark history indeed. 

Polygamy favors the return to family and tribal cocoons for politics. All wives have to wait for the decision of the man. They are schooled into that from the family to the ballot box. 

Kenya only has to remember its own Naivasha politician and many others who were polygamous and see how things played out. It sounds minor and irreverent even, but just go to the grassroots and find out how this works out.  Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya was a polygamist among many monogamists of his time

They say these clans and cocoons is not the ruin of Somalia but one finds it hard to understand how if people are so bound with blood ties things can go so wrong until one hardly has a country to speak about. Of course close family ties are also an enormous benefit in family business but things can go quite wrong.

Power should have been questioned here. The Legislature in a new system which many in Kenya have not yet mastered, true, had its day. But many pointed out that this law that allows polygamy in Kenya should have been taken back to Parliament if the president had not signed it for further scrutiny.

Kenya is flooded with a patriarchy that needs serious checking. It would not have been possible for women parliamentarians alone to win the fight against polygamy. The way forward is not polygamous.

We know polygamy today is not tenable in many ways. We know where it places the women and the lie that the first woman is the one who invites the second, even today cannot stand up to scrutiny in over 90% of the cases of polygamous practice. In essence that is where the law that was rejected in Kenya in favour of the men not asking for permission to take another wife was going. Now that is history.

Let us learn, there is something disturbing about this map. It is almost the very same map of areas where Female Genital Mutilation is practised in the world. What is it about women and power that we hide in polygamy?