On Monday the 28th of April President Uhuru Kenyatta passed into law a Marriage Bill. The marriage Bill’s stated intention was to bring together all the various legal, cultural and religious statutes and practices touching on marriage law in Kenya under one ‘catch all’ law.
You see, the fact hat Kenya is home to numerous communities, who in turn practice numerous faiths, means that the issue of whose interpretation of rights and privileges, among other things was something of a grey area. Lots of overlapping obligations, lots of contradictions so on.
Also, up to this point, marriage under ‘African Customary Law,’ though technically possible in Kenya, did not have any kind of set of standards through which marital issues could be resolved though the formal legal system.
This marriage law had been in the works for a number of years. The idea seemingly had originally been that, with one set of standards for marriage, protection of spousal rights would be protected from the sort of shenanigans, and tomfoolery, especially towards women, hat had run amok in adjudication marital rights, when there were lots of different laws involved.
The idea for such an all encompassing Marriage Bill had been one of the platforms of the women rights movement in Kenya through institutions such as Maendeleo ya Wanawake (Progress for the Womenfolk) and Fedearation of Women Lawyers (FIDA). Personalities such as the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai, herself a victim of dubious litigation in her own divorce, had also championed the cause of streamlining marriage laws in the country.
However, when the bill itself hit floor of Kenya’s parliament, than noble ideal got tossed out the window, and using their overwhelming majority, men from across the political divide joined forces to add a number of amendments which I feel undermined the progressive nature of the whole Bill.
In particular, the introduction of a clause permitting male partners to go ahead and acquire multiple wives, without any kind of consent or consultation on the part of his existing wife or wives.
Many if not most of African Communities in Kenya recognize polygamy, in some way or another, as does the Islamic faith (to which approximately 20% of Kenyans subscribe). However the idea that a man can go ahead and bring home another wife any time he feels like it is something I have never heard of being kosher in any community in Kenya ever. It strikes me as acting in extremely bad faith.
Not surprisingly, women’s groups were outraged that not only that an attempt to bring clarity into the institution of marriage get twisted against itself by parliament, but that the president, regardless of his supposed digital (modern) outlook. Went ahead and consented to parliament’s actions. Some have vowed to challenge constitutionality of the new law in court.
Perhaps, the courts will quash the new law, perhaps they won’t, but it seems that with Kenyan politicians, when you have the numbers having your way with any old law, whether its media freedoms. Women’s rights etc, regardless of the consequences is perfectly cool