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On Kenya’s New Polygamy Bill

Broken Heart

Oh look, while I was busy plotting to take over the world another corner of the internet, Kenyan politicians have come up with another one of their gems that force me to come out of my self-imposed purdah. This time, it’s a doozy: polygamy without consultation!

First, I note that polyandry seems to be missing from the bill. If women are equal citizens, why are women not allowed to have multiple husbands? That smacks of a double standard. If men are allowed a harem, women ought to be allowed a troupe of taut, oiled dancing boys – or something similar – to amuse them when hubby is too tired from work or dealing with his other wives. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.

And while I haven’t read the bill in detail, it appears to make a distinction between civil marriage and customary (read: tribal) marriage. That is a problem. Say a man has taken on a number of wives, but only one of them is registered as “legit”. Are household assets and income split equally or is one favoured over the others? When the wives are in dispute over the treatment of themselves or their children, to whom do they have recourse?

What I can predict with a degree of certainty is that this legislation will lead to the death of romance and the rise of cold calculation where marriage is concerned. A thinking woman, when considering a “come we stay” or marriage proposal, will demand the following as a show of good faith:

  • A formal written proposal outlining the arrangement she is entering into
  • A guarantee as to her status in the relationship going forward
  • Assurances as to the status and support of any progeny arising from the relationship
  • Provisos for restitution should the relationship sour

Congratulations, Kenyan lawyers! I do believe that our legislators have just made pre-nups, post-nups and new-wife-appearing-nups a thing! All it needs is the right test case and the floodgates will open for an entirely new cohort of people seeking legal advice about their relationships. Think of the fees! And when the relationships break down? Just think of all the billable hours that could be charged! Without any pre-existing arrangements, divorce cases are about to get awfully complicated. And just imagine what happens when the father of such a brood dies without leaving a comprehensive will. It is going to be a bonanza out there. Start advertising now!

If Kenyan legislators had thought about this in any depth before voting for the bill, they would have laughed it out of the chamber, because unintended consequences can be serious and detrimental to everyone. But they didn’t, because the majority are men, and so are convinced that having more than one wife is what their Sky Daddy wants for them (your flavour of Sky Daddy may vary; mine is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, preferably with carbonara sauce). So while some Kenya men celebrate the idea of unlimited spouses, women quietly see the deckchairs being moved on the Titanic, and wonder whether marriage is worth the bother at all. Those with money plot silently to fly to foreign sperm banks with sane legislation should they wish to have children. Good Kenyan men of quality have effectively seen their lawmakers make them redundant.

Kenyans: a nation of lions led by donkeys. Only this time, some of the lions are happy to follow.

(Image by Free Grunge Textures)


Travel, Tourism and Terrorism

Al Shabaab I, by WhyteKnyteThe UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just issued a travel alert for Nairobi, advising Brits to beware of the increased risks of terror attacks in the city. When I heard, my thoughts immediately jumped to how this might affect Kenya’s tourism industry, dependent as it is on foreign travellers and their hard currency.

It already didn’t look as though 2012 would be a banner year for the tourism sector: the global economy continues to limp along, with more travellers choosing short-haul destinations as they tighten their household spending. And though the election may not take place until the end of the year, jitters about a fresh round of post-poll violence are already in the air, potentially putting off tourists.

This isn’t to say Kenya is now off limits, or will suffer disproportionately. But the drip-drip of bad news does have a cumulative effect. Instead of answering questions about “Oh hey, game parks!” when people learn I’m Kenyan, they now want to know if my family are safe (they are).

With inflation in the local economy hovering above 15% it is impossible to expect domestic tourism to pick up the slack, no matter how good growth is this year. We need those tourists, and the Kenyan Tourism Board need to be pulling out their A-game presentation packages to encourage them to return.

In a bitter irony, the terrorists al-Shabaab may have caused more damage than they could ever hope to achieve with bombs alone. By issuing public threats and scaring away tourists, they are already having a detrimental effect on one of the most important sectors of the economy.

2012. The year of the financial terrorist?

[Image by WhyteKnyte]

Kenyan Politics: Boys’ Club?

No girls allowedJust when I think that Kenyan politics can’t let me down any more than it already has, our elected troglodytes manage to surpass themselves.

Apparently, you can write a constitution, but change it when it doesn’t suit your purposes. So we have the dropping of the clause that a third of MPs should be female. I know! Crazy, right? Surely the women are too busy being helpmeets to their husbands to bother themselves with the ugly business of running around campaigning for votes.

So the good men of the cabinet have made a decision. It’s too hard! And it’s not boys wanting to keep hold of all of their marbles; it’s for the good of the country!

Analysts say the government fears that if parties are forced to reserve seats for women it will cause serious divisions in their ranks.

C’mon ladies! Don’t put yourselves forward for political office. Be reasonable. Do you want to trigger another civil war?

God forbid that the various parties shoudl actually seek capable and effective women from within their ranks! What’s that you say? Women are only effective at making tea for cabinet meetings. Well, hi! How are things back in the Middle Ages?!

Of course, in a meritocracy, women would rise to the top like cream no matter what the circumstances. But is Kenyan politics really a meritocracy? Honestly? Can you imagine the best possible candidate being able to represent their constituency without having to make themselves a hostage to fortune within the party-political process?

The boys’ club has always been sewn up, and when the constitution was being drawn up, lip service was given to letting the girls have a go. Now, with elections on the horizon, the boys suddenly realise that there will be less patronage to spread around if the girls have some reserved seats. so they vote for a constitutional amendment.

Do the voters of Kenya get a referendum?

Let’s wait and see.

[Image by]

Will Kenya’s New Hate Speech Rules Do Any Good?

After the post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya a couple of years ago, the media was received a portion of the blame for inflaming public opinion, with vernacular radio stations in particular being accused of being the worst culprits. To prevent a repeat, the government has written a new set of guidelines to monitor “hate speech” and incitement to violence. Will they have any effect?

Naturally, nobody wants a repeat of the violence that convulsed the country in 2007-8, and anyone using tribalism or ethnicity as a mean to sow division and discord is obviously an idiot and also potentially dangerous. But while it is possible to moderate language on the airwaves, it is far more difficult to police sentiment. And it is sentiment that drives talk-shows, no matter what words is used. A caller or talk-show host may not say a specific word, but that does not mean that the audience will not understand exactly what they are hinting at.

Further, most of these talk-shows, as I understand it, are live. Now even if you have a ten-second delay in place, how do you stop a caller or guest speaker from going off on a rant? And who is liable if they do? The article on the guidelines doesn’t say anything about what possible sanctions might be in place for any outlets that break the rules, so it is unclear on exactly how they are going to be enforced. And this is where things get sticky: coming up to an election, mud is going to be thrown, and politicians are going to complain about receiving what they see as unfair criticism from certain media outlets, but does that actually count as hate speech? Who gets to decide?

What has also been completely overlooked is the role that social media played in stirring up trouble during the PEV. There is nothing to stop a repeat of the ugly emails, Facebook wall posts, SMS messages and tweets that were widely circulated at the time, not by media outlets but by individuals with an agenda. While limited to those who had access to the necessary technology, those still played a part in stirring up the violent rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the elections. Even if there was a radio and television blackout after the next election, how would the government go about monitoring those?

It would be great if Kenyan media independently chose to raise the tone of the debate at the next elections. But playing an active role in keeping things calm might mean censoring some of the more extreme opinions swirling around, which can be a tricky judgement call to make, especially when emotions are running high and personal prejudices might play a role. While this should be a matter of sensible policy in editing suites up and down the country, I’m not sure that a set of rules with a nebulous definition of “hate speech” is going to be very effective.

[Image by AleBonvini]

Kenya, Corruption and Foreign Investment

Dollar bills in a brown envelopeTransparency International has released its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), and the results are both interesting but unsurprising. Topping the list are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore, kicking it Little Mermaid and Hobbit style, with canings for graffiti. Languishing at the bottom of the list of countries you don’t ask to look after your wallet while you visit the restroom is Somalia, which is only surprising if you’ve been in a medically induced coma for the last 20 years.

The top African country (meaning the most honest) is Botswana at the high-ish rank of 33 out of  178 ranked nations. It’s not terrible, but one suspects that it could be better. Still, it is orders of magnitudes better than Kenya’s poor showing, ranked at 154. Seriously guys, that is weak. Only another eight African nations were ranked lower, including Somalia, which has the excuse of being a basket-case. This isn’t just bad for the national self-image; it is also bad for business.

As I say in my post about starting a business in another country, there is a certain amount of research that needs to be done before you decide that foreign climes deserve your hard-earned money. Kenya lurking at the bottom end of the Transparency International table makes it a less appealing prospect than other nations. Not only do foreign investors not know if the terms they are offered are above board, but these days certain countries will prosecute citizens who they suspect of engaging in bribery abroad. This makes Kenya less of a “sure thing” when it comes to pumping money into the economy, and I can’t really blame investors if they look to spend their money elsewhere.

Corruption also hurts the economy at home, especially when it can be hidden under the guise of “commercial confidentiality.” Take the Thika Highway contract for example: what environmental laws are the firms involved being allowed to flout? How come local firms find themselves virtually shut out of the procurement and supply process? Why is it that so few jobs have been generated for homegrown talent? Could it be that the Chinese firms offered a deal whereby if they were given free rein, there might be a little sweetener, a “consultation fee” for a minister or two? I’m not saying that’s what happened, I’m just suggesting that it could.

I love my country, and I want to see it succeed. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see its problems and realise that the ingrained corruption that pervades our society is holding us back. Things need to change; the old ways of everyone in a chain getting a little bit of something for themselves have to come to an end. If corruption is to be eliminated, transparency must be the order of the day. But this will only happen if we, the people, demand it. That means rejecting politicians who bribe for votes, holding our representatives responsible and holding ourselves to a higher standard, regardless of what the criminals in our midst our doing. If you do a shady deal, I’m going to call you out. And if you see someone else doing the same, you should do the same. Kenya will not get better until the population as a whole stands up against corruption. It is up to all citizens to make sure this happens.

[Image by Evert Haasdijk]