Rwanda stands out in the East African Community in that the law only recognises a monogamous marriage. Other EAC countries recognise a mix of civil, religious and customary laws.
In Kenya, for instance, one can marry up to one hundred wives or more. Take the example of Akuku Danger, said to have married 130 wives.
The late and, some say, illustrious Kenyan was admired by many men for his virile prowess. He sired more than 200 children, though he would divorce more than 80 of the 130 wives.
The man died in 2010, aged 94 and “still at it.”
Many Kenyan men gave it to him, If not for anything else, for being “man enough” to be able to manage even the 50 wives.
A new Marriage Bill that has just been introduced in the Kenyan National Assembly would still have allowed him to marry as many.
Though, this time, he would have had to seek consent of all of them to marry another wife. He seemed to marry on a whim, and at will.
At the age of 22, he was already married five times. By the age of 35 he had 45 wives.
Akuku would, however, have had to contend with another problem being proposed in the new bill.
Any woman he proposed to and failed to marry could have sued him for compensation under the new bill, if enacted.
All the jilted woman would have had to do is prove that there was a promising marriage proposal, and that she would have suffered damage by forgoing the marriage.
If enacted, the bill specifically says that men and women whose partners promise marriage but fail to deliver will be entitled to compensation.
It says that, even though a promise by a person to marry another person is not legally binding, the partners who feel they have suffered as a result of a broken promise can seek compensation.
The bill not only recognises polygamy, but seeks to regulate Christian, civil, customary and other marriages, previously under separate laws.
Akuku remains legendary, if not celebrated. And many of his compatriots harbour the dream of being polygamists.
One can, therefore, easily imagine a comely munyarwandakazi (Rwandan lass or woman) being whisked off by an amorous and well-meaning Kenyan to be married in Nairobi; only for the man, after some time, to feel like getting his wife “a helper” and marry a second one.
Or, the man, for whatever reason, may change his mind and not honour the marriage proposal. These things happen; but the law would hopefully be there to cover for the hapless lass—if enacted.
In principle, any person, including other East Africans, stand to gain from the marriage bill, as long as they continue to attract admiring Kenyan suitors.
Predictably, the proposed bill has raised much noise among the garrulous Kenyans between those who agree with it, and those who don’t.
It is one thing to legislate marriage, some of the arguments have gone, and quite another to contend with human nature.
A logical question has, therefore, followed to ask whether humans are naturally monogamous or polygamous.
Indeed, many studies have been conducted and archaeologists, anthropologists, and biologists agree that the matter is not that clear cut.
Human beings are naturally neither monogamous nor polygamous. They are a cross between the two.
That is why, those familiar with the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments will be aware of the injunctions against fornication and adultery. (This column condones neither).
Even the most religious among us gets tempted, because by nature humans are neither monogamous nor polygamous.
One may, therefore, argue that it boils down to choice—like Akuku Danger made his, and the rest of us ours.
In the meantime, according to anthropologists, only 1 in 6 societies enforces monogamy as a rule. The rest are polygamous.
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