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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)


Media Bill: a Call for Subversion

So our esteemed president has signed the Media bill into effect. While I can imagine a number of media houses shaking in their boots and amending their editorial guidelines, this should not be the same for blogs and websites hosted outside of Kenya.

While the Bill includes provision for state agents to censor the content of newspapers, radio and television stations, there are steps that independent journalists and bloggers can take to ensure that their voices continue to be heard.

Ignore the mainstream media; they are effectively hamstrung by an unspoken good behaviour agreement. It would be interesting to see which outlet will be the first to publish an editorial critical of the government, but I personally won’t be waiting with bated breath. Those who wsh to highlight official corruption or misdeeds must now reach out to international media outlets to get information out, and also take steps to ensure that they stay on the right side of a number of laws.

First, for anyone thinking of publishing inflammatory material, do your best to make sure that it is true. A libel or defamation suit will bankrupt you, and you can be charged in a variety of jurisdictions, no matter where you actually live and work. Modifiers such as “allegedly” and “supposedly” are useful but can only do so much. Check and double-check your sources.

Also make sure that you put yourself beyond the reach of the Kenyan authorities. In a previous post on the subject we metioned the possibility of placing information on Wikileaks, but there are a number of similar websites, such as Indymedia, that could also serve the same purpose. Not only are these sites based outside Kenya, but if they do pick up your story they probably also have legal counsel who can ensure that you don’t get into any trouble.

Finally, it does look as though civil servants could actually become the most important media players around. Think about it: who has access to briefing papers, minutes of meetings and high-level discussions in various ministries? Who would be the first to know if a minister were fiddling his expenses or keeping a mistress on the side with funds earmarked for developments. These state employees are now probably more important than than they realise. If you are lucky enough to have one of these as a source, cultivate and protect them. Use anonymous emails to communicate with them, ensure that any notes you take cannot be easily consficated, and never give them up to colleagues, bosses or anyone else who might compromise them.

This media bill might actually be quite fun. We can start playing Spy Games with our own government. Who knows? We might actually win.

[Image by Antoon’s Foobar]