A Kenyan woman has been having affairs with two men for more than four years and has refused to choose between them — so she decided to marry both. Titus Kakembo explores the issue.
Joyce Wambui shocked the world when she went public about being in love with two men, Sylvester Mwendwa and Elijah Kimani. One woman having more than one husband is almost unheard of.
For a long time, we were used to polygamy — one man having more than one wife — which is widely practiced in various communities. But the men have agreed to share the woman, and they even signed a contract to “set boundaries and keep the peace.”
Referred to in some circles as the relationship of the year, Mwendwa and Kimani had previously traded blows and verbal insults upon discovering that, for four years, they unknowingly shared a spouse. She gave both her men personal assurances that she loved both of them truly and equally and that she could not live without either.
Finally, the co-husbands agreed to share their ‘prize.’ They promised not to harbour jealousy towards each other. They would go by the agreed time table where either would alternately get his conjugal rights.
The agreement further stipulated that the two men would stay in her house and respect the day set aside for each of them to sleep with her. They both agreed to raise the children when they come along.
However, after Mwendwa went public with the story, he later claimed Wambui was angry with him. For fear of his life, he had gone into hiding and even left his job, according to TV news reports. But the act, referred to as polyandry, has been condemned as immoral and “unAfrican.”
Abdhalah Abdulrahman, a community policing officer in Kenya says he was strongly opposed to the contract. “As a Muslim and a Kenyan, I do not accept it,” he said, adding that it is against Islam and African tradition. But what if the woman is head over heels with these two men.
SHOULD WE CARE?
A Ugandan lawyer in private practice, Gerald Abila, says the law allows polygamy in certain types of marriages like customary marriages.
“By deduction, the law does not outlaw polyandry. However, since this law is mainly based on cultures and customs, then customary law as provided for by the judicature act will apply and under many customs, polyandry is forbidden,” he says.
He adds: “Much as it is not forbidden by law, it is also not allowed by many customs, which renders polyandry impracticable.”
Joseph Musalo, a psychiatrist from Uganda Christian University, says in intimate relationships, one can never get 100% of what they want in a partner.
“Perhaps for Wambui’s case, Mwendwa gave her 50% but lacked the other half, which was complemented by Kimani. Women want tenderness, love and care, which never come in a package,” Musalo says. He says in Uganda, polyandry is socially unacceptable although it exists.
“The cause may be physical, financial or real devotion,” Musalo says, adding that polyandry relationships go against the marital vows of sticking together through thick and thin.
Pastor Elijah Sebuchu of Kampala International Christian Centre says polyandry goes against the Bible. He cites Genesis 2:2-24, which partly reads: “For this reason, man shall leave his father and mother’s house and be joined to his wife and shall become one flesh.”
“I have no option but to pray for these lost souls, hoping that with time, they will see the reality and repent their sins,” Sebuchu says.
WHAT WOMEN SAY
However, this is taking place at a time of women’s emancipation. Today, more women own property. They seem to be using their power to date more than one man. It is just that often, they do it behind closed doors.
“Culture is not static,” says a 30-year-old corporate lady: “If more daring Wambuis came up publically, people might accept it. Everything we frowned upon in the past found its way into the mainstream.”
Decades ago, before education and religion changed lifestyles, when a muhima man wished to avail himself of the matrimonial benefits of his colleagues’s wife, all he did was to call on her while the husband was away.
A tale is told that he went ahead to plant his spear outside her hut, as a symbol declaring temporal ownership of the woman. If the legitimate husband returned home and found the spear there, without any hard feelings, he would wait until the consummation was exhausted.
The tale goes on that polyandry was then justifiable as a means to grow and strengthen the clan. “The Bahima were mainly a pastoral tribe with superior weaponry than the Bairu,” Godwin Ahimbisibwe an elder says.
“So the onus was on every man to reproduce to increase the numbers of the minority clan.
The unwritten law was that once I married, even if another man had sex with my wife and they produced a child who looked like him, the child would be biologically his, but culturally mine,” Ahimbisibwe adds.
Another tale has it that during the ancient Bahima days, talented people were admired by many. A man would reportedly approach a good wrestler, kick boxer, musician, dancer or comedian and request him to impregnate his wife.
In case the wife conceived, the offspring had the admired traits to benefit the entire tribe.
The Iteso in eastern Uganda used to practice spousal sharing, but strictly upon the death of a family member. Wives were inherited by a brother if one passed on. But the orphans retained their father’s family name.
Divorce was further made hard by a requirement for the dowry to be paid back if the woman walked out on her husband. And if caught cheating on a husband, the other man was forced to pay eluk (fine).
The Karimojong would not hesitate to take a woman away if her husband failed to pay dowry. The rival, if he paid the dowry owed, automatically took the woman. Even the children she had in the previous union became the property of the new man.