Africa has never ceased to amaze any keen observer. It is laden with so many contradictions and diversities that some writers have aptly argued that it does not even exist! In other words its enigmatic differences only serve to negate its existence as an entity.
According to the Kenyan scholar, Prof Mazrui, the continent has been home to three major influences namely, Islam, Christianity and the indigenous African traditions. He used his famous book ‘The Africans, a triple heritage’ to hint on the failure of Christianity in fending off African traditions.
Although Christianity generally required Africans to give up their polygamous tendencies and marry one wife with death being the only condition for taking on another wife, a good number have failed the test.
Many Africans profess to be Christians and still go on to marry or live with more than one wife.
We have always been told that in the African traditional society polygamy was the preferred choice for marriage and the benefits included the prestige and the abundance of labour in form of several hard working women and the tens of children they would produce.
The western world largely considers the practice to be an affront to women and strongly condemns it. It is often used as an argument to buttress the negative stereotypes on Africans. The spread of HIV/AIDS is quickly blamed on this practice among others.
Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki once said, “We are blamed as animals and seen as human beings of a lower order that cannot subject its passions to reason…” in reference to the perceptions that some people in the West have of Africans.
As a result in public many Africans especially the Christians portray monogamous relationships as a good PR act.
For instance, the current Kenyan president was once known to be having two wives. This quickly changed when the first wife, the eccentric Mrs. Lucy Kibaki started generously offering beatings to anyone who had the courage to talk about Mrs. Kibaki number 2.
Fast forward to 2009 and the debate on the practice of polygamy seems to reaching a new zenith. The old fashioned reasons for choosing more than one wife are no longer given.
Instead, the practice is being repackaged and sold as an African practice that needs no questioning.
This new movement has garnered a lot of steam from the maverick Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa.
Pres. Zuma is arguably the most famous African polygamist today. Apart from being the leader of Africa’s biggest economy, Zuma is also the only known world leader married to three women. He has paid lobola (bride price) for many more and has been photographed dancing at traditional marriage ceremonies.
Recently another South African made headlines by marrying four women on the same day. The catch was that the women said ‘we do’ instead of the expected ‘I do.’
A few years before another businessman in Western Uganda married two sisters on the same day and he made it to the front page of one newspaper.
The ICC-wanted Sudan leader has also been quoted to have advised men to marry more than one wife in order to increase the population of Sudan. We should also not lose sight of the recently pro-polygamy legislations that were debated in Uganda and Kenya.
Interestingly, this writer thinks this whole move could be a subtle response to the Western world’s pressure to Africa to let gay people have more freedoms.
Africa like the Caribbean is known to be a very hostile place for gay people. But just like the West hates polygamy, the two sides seem to be heading for a stalemate.
The gay people may celebrate the decriminalization of their practices in some African countries but we are yet to see an openly gay president even for the US.
On the other hand, Africa’s richest and most successful nation has a polygamous man as president…and three first ladies so far!