The Kenya Forum | Polygamy in Africa: More the merrier or one man, one wife? - The Kenya Forum

April 26, 2012


Polygamy in Africa: Here in Africa the practice of one man having many wives is not uncommon. We ask if it is acceptable?

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Polygamy in Africa: More the merrier or one man, one wife?

Polygamy in Africa: More the merrier or one man, one wife?

Prior to and the introduction of Christianity in Africa and the advent of colonialism, polygamy was common and acceptable. A man was allowed to have as many wives as he wanted. The more wives and children a man had the more it symbolised wealth, gave him a social status and a form of pension for his old age.

Although Christianity and westernisation has changed people’s perspective concerning the matter, polygamy is still a cultural norm among many communities in most countries in Africa. Some communities in Kenya, especially in the Nyanza County, do not just advocate for polygamy, but wife inheritance as well.

Polygamy in Africa: entrenched and well-accepted


King Mswati III of Swaziland has 14 wives and 23 children (at the last count) and the ‘dancing president’ of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, is famous for his polygamous nature and has hit headlines once again for doing what he does best; he just danced away with his sixth wife (two are deceased) this weekend. Mr Zuma’s critics have blamed him for promoting polygamy, a practice they consider abusive to women, un-Christian and culturally outdated. Zuma’s view is that his Zulu cultural traditions allow him to ‘take’ several wives. Well at least President Zuma is open and proud about his polygamous nature. We all know or have heard of at least one popular person whose demise has been followed by a string of women who claim to have been married to him. DNA has proved the paternity of children brought forward in such circumstances. A recent incident along these lines that has played out in Kenya is that of the late athlete Wanjiru.


It sometime seems that money and power seem to have eroded even the basic principles that women prided themselves in. Many women whose pride would never allow them to share a man do not mind it anymore as long as a good life is guaranteed. One woman was even quoted saying, “I would rather cry in Runda than laugh in Kibera, it doesn’t matter what number I am in line as long as I have a piece of the cake”. It’s such scenarios that leaves this Kenya Forum correspondent wondering just what on earth has the one sacred marriage institution been turned into? The recent census in Kenya carried out in 2010 proved that we have as many men as women in Kenya.

However, not every woman is wife material and not every man can make a good husband either. So maybe we need a nose count that addresses the same, just then maybe, we will be able to understand the polygamy issue. “Men are just polygamous in nature”, says ‘Joseph’. Is that true? It is not a statement that this Forum writer concurs with! We love by choice and choose to commit by choice, we should thus stick and rejoice in that choice for as long as we live. Discuss!


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