Like many individuals gifted with insight about their societies, Kiambu Women’s Rep Gathoni Wa Muchomba’s support for polygamy may sound disruptive.
But the views make her stand out as one person who will not go on without warning those who care to listen about a looming crisis in the family.
She is a leader eager to share her a bird’s eye view of her community and her grasp of the realities on the ground so that they can make better choices.
Do you remember the HIV/Aids crisis in the 1980s? The pandemic saw many people in every village head to early graves as leaders dilly-dallied. To warn people about HIV/Aids was going to contradict the position of the government that HIV/Aids was a self-inflicted illness of urban-based prostitutes and their immoral clients.
Those living with it asked for it and deserved no mercy and instead should be quarantined. Their bodies were wrapped up in polythene bags and escorted by armed police for burial without any ceremony by tensed relatives, as narrated in the “Turning the Tide” by Ben Kimathi.
It took the efforts of one uncelebrated social worker, Allan Ragi, whose grasp of the realities on the ground helped to slowly change the government stand. But not until after intimidation, 24/7 trailing by the intelligence personnel and investigations to supposedly see if he had links with the Opposition, writes Kima-thi.
Similarly, I would not be surprised to see Wa Muchomba views met with such hostility including personal attacks until she eats her words or abandons the cause to restore family stability altogether. Yet like in the HIV/Aids case, what Wa Muchomba is saying loudly is what we share daily in whispers.
Wrangles in family
In private, many people freely testify how strange factors conspire to break their marriage. Marrying the wrong person, mismatch of interests, priorities and values; rise or fall in career of a spouse, betrayal by relatives and disagreements over property and wrangles over extramarital affairs as well as inability of spouses to cope with change, often come up with bishops, pastors, professors and every conceivable group.
Broadly, these are confessions that monogamy has been far from taming sexual behaviour of many African people. That failure is denied and unspoken like a taboo.
It only speaks for itself when it boomerangs into mpango wa kando, with its consequences. There is little to deny the turbulence which families are steeped in — conflicts, rivalry, divorces, separation and abandonment — all causing so much suffering to children such that any cure which would seem to restore marriage bliss and family security, partially or fully, is welcome for trial.
It took the government so many deaths to declare HIV/Aids a national disaster but we should be wiser. Polygamy is like the proverbial vine which when planted on the ground (read African society) by Providence, it grew and still grows healthily with branches displaying amazing mobility as they seek trellis on which to hold and spread far and wide.
Monogamy, after it was imposed on Africans in the 19th Century, is the seed that fell on the thorns and has been disappointingly wilting like a vine on rocks and the little life left in it now cannot save it from everlasting death in spite of hard work done to deny this reality.
Monogamy has had its worst enemies in its advocates. Most of the energy has gone not to support its work but to vilify polygamy as the sole source of all family woes. Monogamy is glorified as the ultimate fulfilment of happiness.
A radio comedian recently joked that women squirm at the tinniest of the living things such as flies and cockroaches but become brave when their monogamous marriages begin to show the slightest hint of turning polygamous.
Beyond the emotions and humour that come with this debate, no one should miss the point Wa Muchomba is making that there is pressing need to positively manage relationships.
If the suffering of children so much torn between parents, who have chaotic life of extramarital affairs is to be addressed, openness and new approaches are needed by families and leaders alike.
The writer comments on social issues