Power to polyandry and the brave Mombasa trio

Saturday August 31 2013

There hasn’t been much amusement in Kenya recently. But we’ve all been entertained this past week by the unfolding story of the two men who signed a contract to “share” one woman.

In brief, the two men from Mombasa realised they’d been in a relationship with the same woman for over four years. The woman didn’t want to choose one over the other.

So the men entered into a written contract to amicably and openly continue the arrangement.

All hell broke loose. One of the men apparently obtained permission from the woman’s parents to pay dowry towards a customary marriage. Which raised the question as to whether or not she could customarily marry both.

Polyandry’s not explicitly forbidden, but doesn’t pertain under statutory law, religious law or customary law.

Public reactions were fast and furious. The man who’d obtained permission to pay dowry for the woman said he had to go into hiding for his own safety. He also lost his job at a butchery — in what was clearly a wrongful termination.


He sought help from Maendeleo ya Wanaume — an organisation that came into being in reaction to the (limited) gains of the women’s movement whose sole purpose seems to be to argue that men are as oppressed by women as the other way round.

Maendeleo ya Wanaume, true to form, condemned the agreement between the two men. Quotable quote: “Have women become men to marry more than one spouse?” Its argument was that polyandry is not just contrary to African culture but unconstitutional.

Amusement and entertainment value aside, the story is revealing of the extent to which Kenya endorses dishonesty, hypocrisy and sexism as concerns personal and sexual relationships.

First, all three people involved are above the age of consent. Frankly, they can make whatever arrangement they feel like making—given that nobody’s being harmed by the arrangement.

At least they’ve had the courage to admit to each other what’s going on — and, in an honest and mature manner, determine how they want to move forward together. Is the honest and open arrangement they’ve reached not better than the humiliation and pain that’s inflicted by the clandestine and hidden infidelities that accompany so many ostensibly monogamous relationships?

Second, there’d be no public reactions, no wrongful terminations, no debate on African culture, religion or the law if the woman were a man and the two men were women.

We live in a polygamous society. We don’t need to look farther than we can throw to find men we know who are either in polygamous and religious customary marriages — or to find men who are purportedly in relationships with or married to one woman only who’ve had or are having a series of relationships outside.

So should we react negatively when women decide to do the same thing?

It’s hypocritical and it’s sexist to do so. To answer the quotable quote: It’s not that women have become men. It’s that women are just as human as men.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki has just completed her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France