Forget polygamy. It’s the social system, stupid!

Tuesday April 17 2018

There have been supportive noises for polygamy

There have been supportive noises for polygamy in Kenya, mostly from men. FOTOSEARCH 

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In recent weeks, to the horror of feminists, at least two Kenyan female members of parliament have made rousing calls for polygamy.

One of them, Mombasa’s Woman Representative Asha Hussein asked no less than President Uhuru Kenyatta himself, to marry a second wife to “set an example to Kenyan men” on polygamy.

Many women — speaking out of social media — were outraged. There have been supportive noises for polygamy, mostly from men.

And the jokes, with some tweeps wondering what First Lady Margaret Kenyatta thought of Asha Hussein’s entreaties to her husband to bring competition into their home.

This is not a Kenyan phenomenon. If you follow African media closely, every week or so these days, there is a female politician or community leader calling for polygamy, which had fallen out of fashion in recent decades.

So what the hell is going on? Some explanations are more obvious.

From about 25 years ago, when the number of women in top political leadership and parliament in Africa started to rise, the first crop were warriors who had fought for women’s rights in a hostile patriarchal Africa dominated by reactionary powerful men.

Often, they were portrayed as outcasts, “bad women” who didn’t want to stay home, cook and mop and wait on their husbands, and who attacked “traditions that had served Africa well for centuries.”

They were anti-polygamy, seeing it as both oppressive to women, but also irrational and entrenching poverty: It allowed weasels with patched trousers to keep accumulating wives and children they couldn’t afford to look after.


Then something good happened — the number of women in leadership rose sharply. Soon, however, there were more positions for women in leadership than there were feminists to fill them.

More politically traditional women politicians began to prosper, and soon very socially conservative ones started to be elected in waves that saw a broad rightward shift of voters, with rising homophobia, the explosion of evangelical churches, and what is being cast as the corrupting influence of globalisation and technology (internet, social med