Polygamy is legal in religions such as Islam
According to the 2014 Census of Uganda, around 8.3% of all women aged 18 years or more, were currently married or cohabiting in a polygamous relationship.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta last week signed into law a controversial Marriage Bill legalising polygamy.
John Semakula and Maureen Nakatudde analyse whether a similar law would make Ugandans happier
Even in Kenya where the law now allows men to marry as many partners as they wish, controversy dogged the process. Female MPs actually walked out of Parliament after their male counterparts voted through the amendment. They argued that polygamy would affect the whole family, including the financial positions of the other spouses. The Christians leaders in Kenya also opposed the law saying it was against the principles of Christian marriages.
According to the 2014 Census of Uganda, around 8.3% of all women aged 18 years or more, were currently married or cohabiting in a polygamous relationship. But many others who abandon their wives to marry another woman were not captured in this statistic because that is also polygamy.
Polygamy is the practice of marrying many wives. It applies to both the situation where the man accumulates the wives and also where he abandons the wife to marry again.
Some people insist this is not polygamy. Prophet Samuel Kakande, the head of The Synagogue Church of all Nations, Uganda, situated at Mulago, has had five marriages but still insists it is not polygamy because he was not going to go back to the previous wives
“Marrying again is better than staying in squabbles with an incongruent wife. Going back would be sinful,” he says.
But, unfortunately, it is polygamy.
The Kenyan law
After it became legal to marry many women in Kenya, some sections of the public in Uganda said they would want a similar arrangement here.
Mbwatekamwa Gaffa, MP for Kasambya County in Mubende District, told Saturday Vison that there is no reason why Uganda should not replicate the law.
“In most cases, we pretend that certain things are not happening. Look at what has happened to Pr. Aloysius Bugingo who left his wife for a Church member. These are our concubines who should be protected by law,” the MP, who is a member of the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development, said.
Bugingo of House of Prayer Ministries has been in the news for dumping his wife Teddy with whom they have been married for the last 29 years for a younger woman in his flock. Teddy told the media that Bugingo was even forcing her to accept divorce in order to move on.
Asked whether women with a high libido and cash shouldn’t also be allowed to marry as many men as they wish, Mbwatekamwa said he had no problem with it.
Other Ugandans who support the Kenyan law argue that the biblical patriarchs we esteem so highly were polygamous and that the traditional African society had polygamy instituted among its prized norms.
However, Justice and Constitutional Affairs shadow minister, Medard Sseggona told Saturday Vision that replicating the law would have serious legal implications on the equality of men and women in Uganda.
“If you allow men to marry many women based on their potential; do you do the same to women? And, remember, article 21 of our Constitution talks about gender equality,” Sseggona said.
Wilfred Niwagaba, another MP and a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, also noted that what happened in Kenya cannot be replicated in Uganda.
“We are a Christian country,” Niwagaba said.
Polygamy is outlawed in mainstream Christianity except among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Other religions that accept it are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and most traditional religions.
Mudde Nalule, the commissioner for law reforms at Uganda Law Reform Commission, also weighed in arguing we can only replicate the Kenyan law by getting the consent and blessing of the Ugandans. And, even then, she says, it is not necessary because those who are interested in polygamy can go for it. In the current laws, polygamy is catered for under the Customary and the Mohammedan Marriage Acts.
“So without even amending the law if you want to marry more than one woman, you should do it at the beginning under the two forms of marriage,” Nalule said. “Currently polygamy is not allowed under the civil and church marriages. And even if you separate with your wife and get another one, the second marriage is not recognised.”
In Uganda, the provisions of the Customary Marriages (registration) Act Cap 251 and the Mohammedan Act Cap 252 allow men to practice polygamy.
Hajji Nsereko Mutumba the spokesperson of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, said Muslims do not need any change in their marriage practice. So, the new law in Kenya is of no consequence.
“We can only marry a maximum of four wives and if Pr. Bugingo was a Muslim, he would not be suffering. He would just marry another one and move on,” Nsereko said.
Asked whether Muslims don’t think that women with a high libido should also be allowed to marry more men, Nsereko said that each sex has a specific role to play according to God’s creation plan and that the roles cannot be swapped.
Moves against Polygamy
There have been numerous attempts to outlaw polygamy in Uganda, the first of which was in 1987, through the Domestic Relations Bill. The Bill, which would effectively outlaw polygamy, was drafted in 1987, updated in 2003 and approved by Cabinet in the November of that year. But following month, Parliament rejected it. In 2005, it was reintroduced but, on March 29, it attracted a large protest from over 1,000 Muslims who opposed the requirement that a husband needs to seek permission from his first wife before marrying any more women. It again failed to pass.
The following year, President Yoweri Museveni said the bill was not urgently needed and so, it was shelved. Two years later, the Bill returned with the president calling for its speedy passage. In June, Parliament still rejected the Bill. It later died and has not been seen again.
In 2010, a women rights body, MIFUMI Uganda Limited, petitioned the Constitutional Court saying the practice of one man marrying more than one wife is unconstitutional for violating the right to equality guaranteed in Article 21(1) of the Constitution. That article guarantees that all persons are equal before and under the law in all sphere.
MIFUMI argued that polygamy is against the dignity, welfare, and interest of women and undermines their status. They added that it discriminates on grounds of sex because custom does not allow a woman to marry more than one husband.
It took 8 long years in the court system till 24th September 2018 when the Constitutional court kicked it out with costs.
The five-member panel led by Deputy Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo dismissed the application on technical grounds. They unanimously said the petitioners had failed to demonstrate a willingness to pursue the matter by having many unnecessary delays. MIFUMI lawyer, Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, had asked for more time saying there were more submissions to make that were not ready and that client was not present in court. He was advised to file the petition afresh and include all the interested parties.
The other justices include Kenneth Kakuru, Ezekiel Muhanguzi, Fredrick Egoda-Ntende, and Christopher Madrama.
Mathew Ndira the head of programmes and business development at MIFUMI, noted that Kenya’s decision to endorse polygamy does not necessarily make it the right decision.
“Uganda needs to first understand what polygamy means in its own perspective. I don’t know what Kenya based on to reach this decision but we should not be excited because they made it,” Ndira said.
He explained that MIFUMI had compiled the negative impact of polygamy on families, saying there is a need to make a fair comparison of religion and the stories of the victims of the practice.
“From what we have seen, polygamy has a significant cost implication as men tend to abuse it at the expense of their children and women,” Ndira said. “The entire family gets entangled in violence and poverty.”
He compared polygamy to land fragmentation, which he said have a cost to national development.
“You can’t benefit from the economies of scale from these two practices,” he said.
Prof. Augustus Niwagaba, an economist and lecturer Makerere University
I can never advocate for polygamy. It depletes both the family and the nation’s resources. It is a discounting factor to the economic growth and capital accumulation of the family. Instead of consolidating the resources, polygamy distributes and hence disintegrates them, which is not good. And when it comes to peace and normalcy in a family, polygamy kills the very last of it. It also promotes disharmony and conflict. After all, Christianity disallows it.
Mwesigwa-Rukutana, the Deputy Attorney General
I am proudly polygamous. Monogamous men, more often than not, live a pretentious life with mistresses and illegitimate children which they won’t declare to their so called official wives. As far as I am concerned that is so bad. All my wives should be known as my wives. If I have a relationship with a lady and we got as far as getting a child, why should that lady be a mistress? Those rights organisations who do not want polygamy should instead spend their energies on dealing with their colleagues who date married men in extra-marital relationships which are dehumanising. For me at Christmas, we go to one home in Ntungamo and all my wives play different chores in one home.
Pastor Elios Bizimenyera of Kazo Gospel Church
Polygamy may have its advantages but the limitations outweigh its advantage. I come from a polygamous home. When my father was still around, my mother and step mum never saw eye to eye. And even when he died, we (the children) agreed to come together as a family but still, we are not. My mother and the other wife are not friends either. So, polygamy just fulfills the man’s desires as an individual.
Rev. Francis Musoke, Free Methodist church, Kampala
Marrying many women is a plot from the devil. I know that polygamy is in the Bible but look at its effects. Abraham’s wife, Sarah was unable to have children and Abraham got Haggai, his housemaid so that he could get an heir. Ishmael was born but the family fell apart. Sarah was often at war with Haggai. For peace to reign, Abraham had to let go of Haggai and Ismael. For families to be in tranquil, they should desist from polygamy. Even though some people who practice polygamy attribute it to the stories of polygamous men in the bible like King David and Solomon, they can only act as lessons but not to copy them.
Pastor. Rod Cyprus, a marriage counselor at Dominion Church International Kisasi
Men are equally responsible for their sexual instincts as much as women. A man who cannot control his sexual argues is sexually dysfunctional. Every time you sleep with many women, you lose satisfaction because of lack of commitment. When you are distributing your sexual argues, you cannot be satisfied. So, you keep moving from one woman to another. So, polygamy is lust not love. Men literally use women for their sexual urges. There is no normal woman who would want to share a man. Men have many women because of their ego.
Ronald Kibuule, the State Minister for Youth
Polygamy actually makes one more responsible overtime, as you come to terms with handling emotions of two totally different people. My wives are now friends and turn to each other for support. They decide where I spend the night. There is no resentment, jealousy or bitterness in my marriage. I have managed, including the time when both gave birth in the same week. I had to look after them at the same time. It was very stressful, but I overcame it. I share my love equally between the two. Sometimes I travel with both wives in the same vehicle and do not witness any confrontation. On holidays like Christmas Day, we may all go out as a family. Sometimes we take meals at either’s home. But I advise those who are not capable to stick to one wife. Polygamy needs people who are able to satisfy their wives needs equally.
Dr. Betty Nanyonga Kivumbi, chairperson, Uganda Women Mathematics Association
We should not copy Kenya because legalising polygamy in an already unstable and unfair domestic environment is as good as a legalised risk. Some children might lack resources and suffer in an unstable environment. Current rates show a high number of youths who are unemployed, why would we legalise polygamy that leads to high birth rates, high population growth, and crime rate? This will result in low education rates in the country and low life expectancies eventually affecting the socio economic growth.
Pastor Patrick Kimera, End Times Message Gospel Church
Even the Bible allows a man to have more than one woman. It warns against forgetting your first wife and extols us to continue providing for her if you were doing so in the beginning. I am married to three women and there is no acid throwing at my home. I love them equally. They know each other and I always inform the others when I intend to take another wife. Polygamy is not a punishment as people see it. It was meant to help women. Monogamy has failed even in the western world, which is why people are killing spouses, and homes are broken. Arguments of poverty are against God because our God is a great God; he provides for his own.
Prophet Samuel Kakande, Head of The Synagogue Church of all Nations
I don’t believe it is polygamy when you leave your wife to marry another one and you don’t go back to the previous one. Otherwise, I would now have five wives. But I first separate with one before I get another one. This shows that I believe in having one wife. If you get a misunderstanding with your partner, it is better to separate and marry another person than fight and kill each other as we read in papers.