Genuine African Polygamy

Polygamy is legal in Uganda – in law and in practice. Most recently, Kenya has legalised polygamy in law, although it was already widely practiced in Kenya.  Kenyan men have claimed this as a victory, but is it really?

Just wondering, when did polygamy, the way in which it is practiced within the genuine Africa culture syndrome, become a bad thing? I grew up among polygamist- my grandfather had more than ten wives and I enjoyed all of them. RIP all my ‘tatas‘, in many ways you were strong women from whom I learned to be a woman of substance.

I continue to wonder, could ‘modern’ discourse on polygamy be an example of what Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai characterised as “demonisation of indigenous African cultures” or perhaps what she characterised as “the deliberate trivialisation of African cultures?”

It seems, sadly, that African men have sub-consciously authenticated the demonisation and have instead gone on the defensive. They are fully implementing the negative stereotypes about polygamy and or about how African men treat their women. 

African men need to self-liberate. The process of self-liberation includes gaining an appreciation and an acceptance of one’s culture, especially the positive aspects of it. Self-liberation means appreciating that many African peoples were ‘de-cultured’ by the process of colonialism and we need to re-discover our heritage and to see it through new eyes and not through the colonialist’s eyes.

I am an African woman who considers herself educated, elite, intellectually able, economically self-reliant and not needing liberation. Women such as I, make informed decisions if and when we choose to be in a polygamous marriage or not; and to stay with or have relations with a polygamist.

We make rational decisions. A discourse that says otherwise downright demeans women – it treats us as simply grown up children. Consultation or not, if a man am having relations with decides to opt for polygamy, I have a choice and I have the power to make it – walk away or not, its my choice.

In this day and age I do not think that any African woman of my calibre, and we are many,  is forced to be in a polygamous marriage or relationship. I have not studied Kenya’s new marriage law but I am certain that truly emancipated women in Kenya, and I think they are the majority, are not really bothered by it.

I am assuming that the law is about the obvious – the practice of polygamy is just as wide spread in Kenya as it is in Uganda, we are the same peoples. So, in my view, aspects of Kenya’s new marriage law are likely redundant.

It is unfortunate that the characterisations: ‘educated’, ‘elite’ and ‘intellectually able’ as are utilised in ‘anti-gender-equity’ discourse are often false and without substance, especially as promoted by insufficiently liberated African men.  There is no doubt that there are women who utilise and need ‘gender-hype’ to assert themselves.

Those women who need and use ‘gender-hype’ some do so better than others. Many women do not really need ‘gender-hype’ in order to assert ourselves. We know our universal human rights. The use of ‘gender-hype’ is not necessarily bad manners, I might add. It is only bad manners if one uses ‘gender-hype’ to justify women behaving badly – whether they be a woman or a man.

It is bad manners to utilise ‘gender-hype’ as a smoke screen for human rights abuses – whether they be perpetrated by a man or a woman. The men who complain about women’s emancipation or ‘gender-hype’ for that matter are the ones who need saving. They are the ones who:

  • falsely characterize insufficiently educated women as educated
  • non-elite women as elite
  • insufficiently intelligent women as intellectually able.

It is those men who need help to see the fallacies in their reasoning – for it is oxymoronic for one to accept that intellectually able women support bills and laws against women.

I do not consider intellectually able, the kind of women, as the Kenyan members of parliament, who winged that women will be subjected to polygamous marriages, because “many women cannot afford church weddings”.

Similarly, the Uganda women members of parliament, for example, who supported clauses in Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Pornography Law, were simply not intellectually able when they made that decision.

That is why as soon as the Anti-Pornography Law was passed and more intellectually able women and men challenged it, it has since been put on hold and has not been operationalised. It is a dead letter law needing revising to eliminate sections in the law which objectified women.

So, a call to all African men: instead of trying to use bad laws to subjugate women, try re-discovering the positive aspects of Africa’s heritage. Polygamy in the sense of the African culture syndrome is not the kind that has been ‘legalised’ in Kenya.

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