The theme of this blog post originated from a twitter chat with some of my fellow bloggers on this site. First of all, my heart-felt congratulations to all Kenyans, both men and women, for the new found freedom to officially do what is natural and beneficial. That is what newly passed Kenya polygamy law is.
I have purposefully avoided saying that it is cultural because I am strongly of the opinion that culture is dynamic, and we are not bound to blindly follow the traditions passed down to us by our ancestors. I will therefore focus on the benefits of polygamy especially in an African setting, and also challenge some of the objections people have.
Polygamy is as old as mankind and persists till today all over the world whether it is legalised or not. This is not to say that it is better than monogamy in any way. No, it just works better for some people and may not be suitable to many others. So I am not encouraging those couples in loving and near-perfect monogamous relationship to start seeking polygamy. I choose the word “couples” carefully instead of “men” because it is a total misconception that polygamy is only about men seeking to have more wives.
No, it isn’t! In many cases, it is about existing wives preferring that their husbands have another wives instead of paying hide and seek. In many cases that I am aware of, it is also the women proactively helping their husbands to find the right kind of woman that they themselves can co-habit with. There are so many reasons why women would do that and it is not hard to guess. Another aspect of polygamy that gets forgotten is that it is also about single, divorced or widowed women who are more than happy to be someone’s second wife as long as the man is willing and able to provide them with the much needed care and support. This is the power of love: practical love. Love that does not pride in egoism and righteousness. It is not about men versus women. It is about the society we live in.
There is also a misconception that it is only illiterate or helpless women who would allow this to happen. This is totally untrue! I have discussed this matter with two African women I know very well. Both are educated to Master’s degree level in Europe. One is young and single, the other is divorced with two children. They are of the same opinion that they would not object in principle. Yes, in principle!
That leads me to one of the biggest objections to the polygamy law: which is that men are allowed to take a second wife without the consent of the first wife. On face value, this seems like a flaw in the law. However, let’s look at this differently.
If a man is willing to take up another wife without consulting his first wife, then there is a flaw in that marriage itself. Yes, it does show that the husband has very little regard for what the wife has to say. I can not imagine that happening out of the blues. The man must have been courting the future wife for a while and not being able to share that with the wife shows there is already a crack somewhere in the marriage. I suppose it might be a prompt for divorce or acceptance of your man.
In an ideal marriage, partners should be able to share their desires and weaknesses, and they should be able to counsel each other. Perhaps, we should be providing more family counselling for this. I can easily imagine a situation where a wife talks his husband out of the idea of a second wife. This is because seeking to get a second wife is not always a rational idea. Just like infidelity, it is often driven by momentary lust and the need to take a momentary break from one’s partner. And maybe what the man requires is a polyamory that doesn’t necessary require marriage or intimacy. So yes, seeking more wives is not always a rational thing to do but this is a decision I would rather leave to the individuals involved to make. We can’t legislate for family decisions such as how many children to have, who pays the bills, and how often couples have sex, can we?
Then there is the question of well, why polygamy only?
Why not legalise polyandry whereby women can have multiple husbands too? I am not against this in principle. The problem I have with this argument is that it is a “me too” kind of argument. Laws are made because there is real need for it or just to legalise the status quo in the society. Laws are not made for the sake of arbitrary equality. I have not seen so many women who are craving to have many husbands. This is not to say that such women do not exist. But is their number enough to warrant legalising it?
This reminds me of the argument being used by many Africans regarding the gay marriage laws being passed by many Western countries. Many African say well if you want us to accept your gay marriage, you have to accept our polygamy. This is a stupid argument. You make your polygamy laws because it is good for you and not in response to what others are doing. In the same light, I have seen many Africans argue that the aggressive anti-gay laws that have be passed by Nigeria and Uganda is to show that we can stand up against the West. What! Make laws just as a tit for tat!? That’s nonsense! I have not seen many gay people in Africa asking for gay marriage. So we don’t need to pass gay marriage laws. what the African gays want is to be left alone and free from persecution!
As I said earlier, I don’t even wish to go into the cultural aspects, nor the religious aspects of this. One thing is worth noting though. what this law has done is to create an equality of marriage whether customary, religious or registry marriage.
Prior to this, what happens, including in Nigeria at the moment, is that Muslims and traditionalists are allowed to have as many wives as they want. These marriages are often not registered, and even if they were, only the first wives are recognised. This means that from the second wives onwards, wives are not recognised and have absolutely no rights before the law. The law seeks to address this injustice. It is mostly to give a legal status to women who have chosen to be with the men of their choice be it in the capacity of a second or tenth wife. I can not just imagine that just because of this law, all Kenyan men will start looking for second wives. I am sure there would be lots of complication in polygamy not least the accommodation arrangement. People should think about it carefully. There are many anecdotes about this. There are many happy people too.
I write about polygamy so passionately because I have seen it work. My maternal grandfather had two wives. The two wives remained best friends till the end of their lives. Their children and grandchildren (including me) remain very close. I once had a girlfriend whose father had two wives. This girl and the father’s second wife were very good friends. Many African leaders have many wives including Jacob Zuma, Olusegun Obasanjo, and others. The fact of having many wives is the least of their weaknesses.
Many western leaders may not opt for many wives, but they are often involved in serial monogamy like French presidents or have numerous lovers e.g. Silvio Berlusconi, Bill Clinton, Francois Mitterland, John Major, Nicola Sarkozy, Chris Huhne, to mention just a few. Just think of the number of high profile celebrity rape and paedophile cases in the British press at the moment. If this what westerners at the top who live in glass houses do, imagine what the common man who is not concerned about being stalked by the press is doing. So we can only hail our leaders who have come out openly to be themselves.
I will finish with my favourite lines from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more; Men were deceivers ever; One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never; Then sigh not so, But let them go, And be you blithe and bonny; Converting all your sounds of woe Into. Hey nonny, nonny.