Former Miss Kenya Cecilia Mwangi is currently the talk of the town after the no-holds-barred interview with Drum magazine in which she admits being married to a youthful member of Parliament from the Coast who has another family.
Ms Mwangi, who says she is in the fifth year of her marriage to the MP, explains her decision to go public was inspired by Tusker Project Fame Season I winner Linda Muthama, who in August talked with True Love magazine about her relationship with comedian Walter Mong’are alias Nyambane, who has another wife.
Nyambane declined to speak on his marriage saying it had been rehashed in local press. But he promised an in-depth interview once Linda gives birth to their second child soon.
“Wewe shikilia tu hapo mama ako karibu kujifungua halafu utapata story smart (Hold it there; my wife is about to give birth to our second child and then you will get a good story),” Nyambane said.
For her part, Ms Mwangi requested us not to reveal the name of her husband as his political competitors might use it against him. She, however, talks about their marriage in detail in the October issue of Drum.
“We are now in the campaign period and I want my husband to be at peace,” Ms Mwangi told Lifestyle last week.
Cecilia and Linda are among many young and educated Kenyans who are admitting to being in polygamous unions, a trend that has debunked the belief that polygamy is an outdated culture.
Although the majority of Kenyans claim to be monogamous, statistics show that 13 of every 100 married Kenyan women have co-wives.
This means they are married to men who have at least one or more wives, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 2008/2009.
The survey showed that educated women were less likely to practise polygamy, as it was common in past centuries when having more women and children was considered to be a status symbol and a source of pride for men.
The survey also showed that older women were more likely to be in polygamous unions than younger ones, and the practice was more prevalent in rural than urban areas.
But more and more young people are making nonsense of these findings, with a growing number of modern women coming out to admit they are second wives. And no, the men are not sugar daddies: they are young husbands.
University of Nairobi sociology lecturer Ken Ouko argues that polygamy never really died.
“It was just re-invented by modern society and the Y (current) generation has perpetuated this re-invention by altogether dismissing marriage as a moribund sham that is nothing more than an outmoded popular tradition,” Mr Ouko says.
Ms Mwangi proudly calls the MP her husband and head of her house. They have a 14-month-old baby called Cherise.
“I am proud to say I am his second wife,” says the model who has become famous for her anti-jigger campaign.
She says one of the conditions in the relationship was that the MP would not neglect his other family.
“As long as he is taking care of the other family I am OK,” she said. “If he considered abandoning them for me then that would be the end of us.”
Ms Mwangi says her decision to go public was inspired by the fact that the union was long-term.
“We have one child and a second one is up for discussion,” she says. “I decided to go public because it is a serious relationship.”
She supports polygamy arguing it is here to stay. “We must embrace our African culture,” she says. “People must stop demonising second wives because we are not bad people.”
Precious Mutua, 30, a student at the Kenya Institute of Management, proudly admits being a second wife to a 40-year-old IT specialist. They have been in the union for five years and have three children.
She says there are few marriageable men in Kenya and women have to make do with those they get.
“Besides, I am not into attached relationships. He sees me when I want him to,” she says. “I also don’t have to wash his clothes or cook for him. He also takes good care of me.”
Ms Mutua argues that men are genetically polygamous.
“If I am not the second wife I’ll be the first wife so, either way, I’ll be in a polygamous relationship,” she reasons.
Some people have linked polygamy to increased HIV prevalence in the country but Ms Mwangi says promiscuity is to blame.
“It is dangerous when done clandestinely. But when you come out in the open then you all take responsibility for your health, unlike when it is a mpango wa kando (mistress) arrangement,” she says.
It is more dangerous, she adds, to be in a relationship with a single person who is promiscuous.
Population Services International (PSI) has been running adverts urging Kenyans to be faithful. The adverts, whose face is TV host Jimmi Gathu, blame philandering for increased HIV cases besides draining finances.
The “Wacha Mpango wa Kando (stop promiscuity)” sign-off in the commercials has now turned out to be a popular buzz word among Kenyans. A gospel song with the same name has become very popular on television.
But Dr William Maina, the head of the National Aids & STI Control Programme (Nascop) says polygamy is not a major threat to the war on HIV.
“As long as the wives are faithful to the man and vice versa, there is no threat. What we are discouraging are the illicit and secretive affairs outside the marriage,” Dr Maina says.
National Council of Churches of Kenya general secretary, the Rev Canon Peter Karanja, also argues that the polygamy debate should be tackled cautiously.
He says the Bible, in the Old Testament, gives a green light to the culture and outlaws it in the New Testament.
“The Bible gives a clear directive that in church you should not give leadership positions to people in polygamous marriages, meaning they can be members of the church,” Rev Karanja says.
Rev Karanja adds that the Anglican Church of Kenya does not allow polygamy and all priests are under instruction not to officiate such unions.
Under the Constitution, polygamy is forbidden in statutory marriages, but allowed in Muslim and customary marriages. The Marriage Bill, which has the fine details of such arrangements, is yet to be passed by the Parliament.
According to Mr Ouko, young women are forced into the second-wife status because they are too emancipated from the domination that comes with the traditional marriage where the husband is alpha and omega.
“The modern educated woman has no intention of succumbing to the total submission demanded by the monogamous arrangement, where the man expects her to perfect her wifely duties to his satisfaction,” Mr Ouko says.
The sociologist further argues that most women know that in the traditional marriage, anything the man buys will be “ours” but in the polygamous arrangement, anything he buys is hers.
“She will keep the man on his toes about how securing her future is not possible legally due to that little irrelevant eventuality of bigamy,” Mr Ouko says.
“This means that the man has to secure her separately and in her world – she remains the sole owner of whatever may accrue from this arrangement.”
In 2010, a survey conducted by research firm Infotrak showed that given a second chance, 11 of every 100 Kenyan women would have no problem with their husbands marrying other women.
Three in every 10 people would not marry their current spouse again, the Infotrack report said.
The survey further revealed that only 40 per cent of Kenyans were happily married, the rest are either unhappy or not sure how to describe their unions.
Some 29 per cent of married Kenyans admitted their marriages were headed for the rocks.
Love – that traditional bond that leads couples to the altar – seems to have taken the back seat in many Kenyans’ marriages, its place taken by money and children. Only four in 10 married people, according to the survey by Infotrack, said they were in it for love.