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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)


Pity the African Billionaire

Good news, kids! The Forbes 2011 World’s Billionaires rankings are out. Did you make it on to the list this year? Congrats! You are part of a select group of people who are collectively worth $4.5 trillion dollars.

Carlos Slim remains on top of the list of the world’s richest people, having added another $20.5 billion to his fortune last year. Meanwhile, the trend for the rest of the list is the emergence of ever-more Asian billionaires, chipping away at the USA’s previous domination of global wealth.

Now, I realise that once we start talking about personal wealth measured in billions of hard currency, we ordinary prolescum lose our damn minds and start dreaming about hanging out with other billionaires, going to all those exclusive dinners and parties that we only hear or or read about. But spare a thought for the African billionaires.

They’re lonely! They are few and far between, barely able to scrape the numbers together for an African chapter of the World Elite Club. Who are they supposed to pick as their competitive superyacht-buying rivals? When do they get to pit their polo teams against each other? Are there even enough of them to hold a mini-Bilderberg summit?

The only African to have made the top 100 of the list is Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, in 51st place. Lord knows where the next African is ranked, because I’m not going to wade through all 1,210 entries to find out. We may never know who Aliko hangs with when he’s not looking after his business empire.

India and China are producing new billionaires on a weekly basis, yet we can’t even get our act together to bring forth enough homegrown billionaires for a (very) high-stakes poker game. The message is clear, Africa: stop slacking! Make more billionaires! Once we can show off a shiny crop of newly minted billionaires, maybe we’ll get round to that equitable wealth distribution thing. Get to work! Aliko Dangote needs some new friends!

[Image by BullionVault]

Why Only a Limited Number of People Should Have Access to Company Cash

One of the reasons that I have never gone into business with anyone else or hired any employees is because I am terrified of having to cede any control of my financial affairs. If I partnered with somebody, what if they embezzled our joint venture and left me broke? If I hired someone, how would I ever go on holiday? Would I let them sign cheques in my absence? What if they ran off with my funds?

Perhaps I am overly cautious, or too cynical about my fellow humans. On the other hand, the fact that production has halted for The Agency leads me to believe that perhaps to many people had their fingers in the till. From what I can tell from the Standard article. despite funds having been made available, the cast are unhappy with their level of remuneration while the crew claim that a portion of their pay is being withheld. Both parties are unhappy with the producers, who are trying to carry out a desperate bait-and-switch by blaming the lack of money on MNet, who deny being responsible.

Serendipitously, I know quite a few people who work in “showbiz:” riggers, electricians, producers, generally all the people we either don’t see or ignore when being entertained. And what they tell me is that any production worth its salt –  whether a children’s nativity play at a kindergarten or a full touring circus – will have a production accountant. This is not just to make sure that the venues are paid for and that the caterers can buy food; it’s also to make sure that the roadies and the band entourage don’t blow the production budget on hookers and blow.

Any group of people that is not a military unit will have a collection of objectives and priorities, which may or may not converge. If each of these people had equal access to a communal pot of money, it is inevitable that somebody would spend money on something they shouldn’t. This is why there is a production accountant; not only can they keep track of what has been spent, they can also deny inappropriate requests for funds. You want money to get more cable so that the lighting director can set up a particular shot? Fine. You want money so that you can rent a suite to impress the second line backing dancer? I hope your bank account has an overdraft facility.

So did The Agency have a production accountant? If not, why not? If it did, do they know where the missing money is? The media is usually portrayed as one of the least serious industries, one where the emphasis is on “art” and creativity. But media and advertising, its symbiotic cousin, are now big business, with millions at stake for major players. It’s surprising that MNet appears to have permitted Starling Quality Entertainment, the production company, to run such a high-profile program in such a slipshod manner, and that the accounting practices on set were so deficient that several million shillings disapeared into thin air.

Every business should make sure that only a select few can access company funds above a certain amount. If you would not be happy to be mugged for it, don’t let your employees snaffle it from under your nose. It’s fine if you’re rich enough to ignore several millions missing, but if the money has been earmarked for anything other than your personal use, keep an eye on it, keep it locked down, and keep access to it strictly limited.

[Image by PJ in Oz]

M-Pesa’s Next Move?

Bankelele had an interesting post up yesterday, detailing how banks need to make peace with MPesa and the challenge it presents to their industry. Sadly, rather than seeing the money transfer system as an opportunity, it appears that some in the banking industry would prefer to see it shut down.

But the post did get me thinking: what next for M-Pesa? And my next thought was payment. Rather than simple money transfer, become almost a bank in its own right, with the ability to issue cards and offer a range of banking facilities, such as standing orders and maybe even loans.

One of the biggest obstacles to E-commerce in Kenya today is the low penetration rate for credit and debit cards. Without the ability to buy things over the internet, most trade will continue to be cash or cheque transactions that are neither as efficient or as quick as money transfer by card or via mobile phone, which M-Pesa already offers.

In order for E-commerce to take off in any significant way, the means to participate in the electronic economy need to be democratised. That means that a majority of the population need access not only to the internet, but also to the means to pay electronically for goods and services.

Will we see the launch of an M-Pesa payment card? Safaricom have not made any encouraging noises about one. Practically, there is little point in launching one while the majority of businesses still expect either cash or a cheque as payment. What we need is for a revolution in payment terms on the part of businesses. Once a majority of companies are able and willing to accept electronic payments on a large scale, the way will be clear for M-Pesa and its subscriber base to make a move. And the banks? They will simply have to play catch-up.

[Image by Andres Rueda]