Stop being selfish: Why women in Central Kenya are being urged to embrace polygamy

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The ‘single mother epidemic’ in Central Kenya has seen wazee advocating for the re-introduction of polygamy, a widely frowned-upon practice in the region.

While men in Central Kenya are known to have mpango wa kandos, there are calls to re-embrace polygamy after Joseph Kaguthi, the head of Nyumba Kumi Initiative in the country recently caused a furore when he asked women to accommodate their husbands’ lovers as co-wives.

Kaguthi, the one-time no-nonsense provincial administrator, told The Nairobian that one of the reasons he advocates for polygamy is because “it is selfish and inconsiderate of women not to share their husbands”.

He noted that, “We are in a crisis in this region. Our population is dwindling at an alarming rate and soon, it will be irreversible, unless we allow men and women to openly acknowledge polygamous unions.”

He said that polygamy is the only way to ensure that children in the region grow up in families with both parents. Kaguthi argues that, “The single parent phenomenon is so widespread and more men and women are growing up without knowing how men and women are supposed to relate to each other.”

Men in Central Kenya were once polygamous for the purposes of wealth generation through dowry and ‘putting together a labour force’ to work on the farms.

“We must embrace who we are as a people. We are not like the coastal communities who enter into polygamous unions for the sake of having a protector, provider and ‘penetrator’,” Kaguthi advised.

Kaguthi pointed out that men preferred to marry women who were industrious and responsible, which is still the case today.

“If you can afford it, you should be allowed to marry more than one woman. We must not hide behind Western cultural values,” he added.

Kaguthi is not a lone crusader for this ‘cause.’ The chair of the Council of Elders (Kiama Kia Maa) Rware Chapter, Gakuo Matu, supports polygamy, arguing that, “Unlike women in the 19th century, the women of Central Kenya today are industrious, independent and willing to take care of their children. If anything, they are an asset to a man, not a liability.”

Matu reckons that “most men in Central Kenya have two or three women in their lives and the only difference is that only one is recoginsed while the rest lurk in the shadows which is unfortunate for them and their children.”

Matu further explained that polygamy would be a wise investment as it is cheaper to have a wife than to maintain a mistress, which is what most men in Central Kenya are doing.

“You can spend Sh5,000 on a wife and she will be happy, but in the case of a mistress, every time you see her, you will have to part with about Sh30,000 on weekend excursions out of town, where you spend on nyama choma and alcohol over and over again,” explains Matu, adding that in a polygamous union, the women in man’s life are forced to co-share what he can afford.

He sounded a warning to women who refuse to let their husbands marry second wives, noting that such men either become hostile or abandon their families.

“Men like new things. After a few decades with the same woman, they start looking for another woman. If a woman stands in the way of that, it makes the man feel trapped and angry,” Matu noted.

According to Matu, men should not be caged because when they cannot get what they want, the will lash out at the closest people to them, who in most cases are the wives.

Nyeri resident and lawyer Waruguru Kiai believes that the polygamy debate is being fuelled by the conflict between Christian beliefs and cultural values. She argues that, “Before the advent of Christianity, our Kikuyu culture supported polygamy. However, the man had to adequately provide for all the wives and children, ensure their security and all wives and children were treated equally. None was victimised or mistreated by the other and respect was paramount.”

Drawing parallels with today’s world, Waruguru says that people are torn between Christianity and African traditions because the moment a man solemnises his marriage in church, he relinquishes the right to marry another woman. What this has resulted in is men opting for several ‘side dishes,’ who for all intents and purposes are their wives, with some bearing them children.

“But these women, unlike in the days of our grandparents, are not wives. They may carry on as wives, but they are not. They do not enjoy the security that culture accorded such women. This is why, as we have witnessed, when prominent men die, there are always women who are sidelined and end up in court,” explains Waruguru.

“However, men should understand that the concept of polygamy was to maintain the dignity and respect of women. There is no need to keep one woman at home and others on the side as ‘matrimonial refugees.’ Men should stop sitting on the fence and man up!” she said.


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