Africa: Kenya’s National Assembly legalizes polygamy

National Assembly has passed amendments legalizing polygamy

By Wilfred Ayaga
The Standard (Kenya)

NAIROBI- The National Assembly has passed controversial amendments that would strengthen the male hand within the family and other social relationships.

Male MPs ganged up to pass the amendments that would have far reaching ramifications on the family. The Committee of the Whole House allowed an amendment that denies a jilted lover the right to seek damages and another that gives men a free hand to take second wives to go through. The amendments have split the House since they were introduced into the House. Priscilla Nyokabi (Kiambu) said that it was important that the amendments be defeated for the sake of family unity.

“If you choose to marry, it is important you inform your wife that you are taking another partner. For the sake of cohesion, it is important to inform all the parties,” she said. Supporting the amendments, Benjamin Washiali (Mumias) said he was a product of a second wife. “I am a child of a second wife. If this law was there, I would not have been born,” he said. Moving the amendment, Justice Committee chairperson Samuel Chepkonga (Ainabkoi) said that African men were expected to be polygamous. “Marriages are potentially polygamous,” he told the House. But Regina Muia (Kilome) vowed to mobilise other female members to shoot down the Bill.

Another amendment that roped in women in the sharing of maintenance costs for children in case of a divorce also sailed through the Committee stage. Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) claimed that women opposed to the amendments were only interested in seizing family property.

“Men are jittery because women want to take our wealth. I don’t want to die poor,” he said. An amendment that had been introduced by Majority Leader Adan Duale that would have allowed Islamic Law a greater say in determining the marriage age for girls was defeated. Among those who opposed the amendment were Nyokabi (Kiambu), who argued that it would expose underage girls to exploitation. “We cannot allow minors to be legislated by other cultures. We must protect the rights of children,” she told the House.

In a telephone conversation with The Standard, lawyer Judy Thongo’ri said despite any shortcomings that the Marriage Bill may have, it was good that the country eventually has a law on marriages. Maendeleo ya Wanaume Chairman Nderitu Njoka supported the amendments.

Kenya’s marriage bill

  • Bans marriage for those under 18
  • All marriages – even customary unions – must be registered
  • Legalizes polygamy, allowing men to marry without consulting other spouses
  • A woman entitled to 30% of matrimonial property
  • Specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, but does not explicitly ban custom of an infertile woman marrying a younger woman
  • Proposals dropped: Banning bride price payments, recognising cohabiting, or “come-we-stay”, relationships


Polygamy bill poses dilemma for Kenya

By Reuben Kyama
Agence France-Presse (AFP)

NAIROBI- The adoption by Kenya’s parliament of a controversial bill that legalizes polygamy has provoked a fierce national debate pitting modern secular values and Christianity against local traditions.

Opponents are already lobbying President Uhuru Kenyatta not to sign off on the legislation, saying it threatens family values in a Christian-majority country, with female deputies also arguing that it also undermines women’s rights.

Supporters, however, argue that the bill merely recognises multiple customary unions which are still common in many Kenyan communities.

“The bill is a threat to our family values, considering that the majority of our people are Christians,” fumed Wanjiku Muhia, a female MP and one of many women deputies who stormed out of parliament last week in protest.

“Women of today have been empowered and they know their rights,” she said, accusing male MPs of blatant sexism. “I’d urge the president not to sign the bill into law, but to consider sending it back to parliament.”

The bill, passed last week, is designed to formalise customary law on marrying more than one person. The proposed bill had initially given a wife the right to veto her husband’s choice, but male members of parliament pushed through a text that dropped this clause.

Polygamy is common in Kenya, especially for those who can afford to maintain multiple wives, Nationwide, an estimated 1.8 million women and 700,000 men are classed as living in polygamous relationships, according to the Standard newspaper.

In many cases a man will have one legal wife, married in a lavish church ceremony and registered with the state, while subsequent wives are married in traditional tribal ceremonies.

“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife… this is Africa,” one MP, Junet Mohammed, told the house.

According to Muhia, “this kind of language is… unacceptable because it amounts to abusing Kenyan women”.

“We walked out of the chamber because we felt that the language some of the male MPs were using was disrespectful to women, and was in bad taste,” she said.

The National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK), which groups more than 40 churches and Christian organisations from across the East African nation, has also spoken out against the bill.

“The debate in the National Assembly was extremely demeaning to the women of our country and the bill itself does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in marriage, especially with regard to polygamy,” it said in a statement issued this week.

The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has also vowed to mount a legal challenge if the president signs the bill into law.

Kenyatta has so far refused to publicly declare what his position is on the issue, but it could present him with a difficult dilemma in which he has to reconcile his Christian faith and his espousal of African values.

“As President Kenyatta makes up his mind on what to do with the bill, we would want to urge him to put a premium on the place of family in national stability,” the influential Standard newspaper also wrote in an editorial that argued Kenya’s social fabric could be undone.

But Sam Chepkonga, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs and a supporter of the bill, said the legislation merely acknowledges something that is already widespread.

“The bill consolidates all marriage types. It’s intended to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners,” he told AFP.

Judy Thongori, a prominent family lawyer, agreed that Kenya need to provide a modern legal framework for traditional practices — whether among Kenya’s many tribes or its Muslim community, which make up 20 percent of the population.

“One big difference is that the new bill provides recognition and registration of customary unions, and we cannot wish away these customary marriages,” she said.

Margaret Mutua, a 27-year-old university graduate, said that regardless of the legislation, most Kenyan women accepted their husbands would be looking elsewhere.

“I don’t really care much,” she said, “because either way our men are likely to marry more than one wife, whether legally or not.”
Video:Kenya Marriage Bill Controversy

Video: Polygamy in Kenya in September 2013
Traditional, Islam and Christianity
Part 1 of 2

Video: Polygamy in Kenya in September 2013
Part 2 of 2


Polygamy remains common in much of Africa.

Polygamy has existed all over the African continent long before Europeans brought Christianity to what is now Ethiopia.

Ethiopia (Axum) was converted to Christianity, in 380 AD/CE, through the efforts of Saint Frumentius. Frumentius was a Syrophoenician (Syria and Phoenicia) Greek born in Tyre. This is the origin of the Christian Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox.

Under Islamic marital jurisprudence, Muslim men are allowed to practice polygyny (the state or practice of having more than one wife). Men are allowed to have four (4) wives.

Only after the European colonial era in Africa was polygamy perceived as taboo in many African cultures.
Video: Why are Muslim men allowed to have four wives?


Jacob Zuma

South African president Jacob Zuma, on a visit to the United Kingdom, has been criticized by some in the British press for having three wives.
Video: President Zuma and his wives

Video: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma weds for 6th time

Video: In 2011 an 87-year-old Nigerian man with 86 wives was arrested

Christianity in Africa
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians

St. Frumentius

Ethiopia (Axum) was converted to Christianity through the efforts of St. Frumentius around 380 AD (or CE/Common Era)
Frumentius was a Syrophoenician (Syria and Phoenicia) Greek born in Tyre.
Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox
Video: The views that some have of what St. Frumentius means to Africans who follow traditional African religion


The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa

Frederick Lugard

Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, the colonial administrator of Hong Kong and Nigeria for Britain, pushed for indirect rule in colonial Africa. Lugard outlined the reasons and methods that should be employed in the colonization of Africa by Britain. It included spreading Christianity and saw state sponsored colonization as a way to protect Christian missionaries and foreign powers. Although the Protestants Christian faith was brought by the British into Africa other European powers adopted some of these principals to convert Africans into Catholic Christians.

Religions in Africa as of 1913

Europeans refered to Africans that followed Islam (Muslims) as “Mohammedans” and those Africans who followed traditional African religion “heathens” in 1913 -Christians mainly lived in Southern Africa where the Dutch, Germans and British colonized and in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that had long converted to Christianity in 380 AD (or CE/Common Era)

Click map to enlarge

Religion in Africa 1913 map

Africa  religions post European colonial era and the expansion of Christian missionary missions

Africa Religions Today

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