The Marriage Bill 2012 has sparked a hearty debate revolving around, among others, the pros and cons of the law declaring a couple married if they cohabit for six months.
Then there is Kenya’s Marriage Property Bill, which guarantees a 50-50 split of property spoils between husband and wife, irrespective of who paid more for what, in case they part ways. Under this Bill, you cannot also instruct your wife, or husband for that matter, to hit the road without a court order.
Marriage just got serious, but we are not alone in this new phase of civilisation. In Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was having marital sideshows when a court stopped his wedding to Elizabeth Macheka after Locadia Tembo — the sister of an MP — claimed he had married her under customary law.
But High Court Judge Antonia Guvava ruled that such (unregistered) marriages were not valid except for “such purposes as the distribution of property”. Tsvangirai finally wedded the traditional way this September because polygamy is recognised in tribal law in Zimbabwe, but not in national laws.
Over in Ivory Coast, President Alassane Outtara sacked his entire Cabinet in a row over a new marriage law which stipulated that wives be joint heads of the house.
Outtara’s party supported the new law that could have made a couple responsible for all major decisions. The coalition coalesced and voted against it. “You can say,” a presidential aide told the Associated Press, “that this was the drop of water that made the vase overflow.”
Marriage has been a thorny issue in Africa for decades, especially on the distribution of power and resources within the institution. And African leaders, especially the Big Men of Africa, have had their fair share of convoluted take and experiences on the subject.
Psychologists slot politicians into personality types, one being the “Type T Personality”. The ‘T’ is for ‘Thrill’, which could account for straying and general unscrupulousness. Like celebrities, politicians are surrounded by indulgent sycophants who give an impractical belief that they are above normal morality.
To get into high office requires a certain degree of risk, and risk-takers are known to live exciting, challenging lives in which they believe they’re the masters of their fates, captains of their souls. They are often attracted to diversity, power and uncertainty, and tend to have strong sexual drives and high-octane energy to cope with their demanding itineraries and strenuous diaries.
“Maintaining a normal home, family and marital life,” Dr John M.Grohol notes, “is nearly impossible” for these types.
As the examples below show, the history of post-colonial Africa is a tale of political experiments that came to catastrophic grief for leaders cursed with streaks of destructive psychosis, in between tragi-comic farces on the domestic stage:
KWAME NKRUMAH, Ghana
The BBC crowned him the ‘African of the Millennium’ in 2000, ahead of even Nelson Mandela. Never mind Nkrumah had been dead for 30 years.
The Ghanaian leader had always wanted to remain a bachelor and, at 48, only got married “for the presidency”. He requested then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to fetch him a bride and only got to meet Fadhia Rizk for the first time during their wedding on October 30, 1957, five months after Ghana became the first African country to attain independence.
When news of the private wedding was broadcast on radio, Ghanaian women wept. Twenty-three years his senior, Fadhia spoke Arabic and French. Nkrumah spoke neither, notes Martin Meredith in his erudite 2011 effort, The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence.
In a 1965 letter to Erica Powell, his secretary and confidante, the Founder of Ghana lamented about intense loneliness “which sometimes make me burst into tears”. “They (the people) see me in public smiling and laughing, not knowing the burden of loneliness and isolation that I carry,” he lamented. “Marriage did not solve it — it has rather intensified and complicated it.”
His publishers wrote on the jacket of his book on neo-colonialism that he was “married with three children”. Well, Nkrumah demanded the line be deleted. And when Shirley Du Bois, the director of television in Ghana, sent Nkrumah a request to film him and family, here was the terse reply he received:
“12th November, 1964
My Dear Shirley
Thank you for your letter of the 6th November, suggesting that NHK should film me and my family in the gardens of Flagstaff House on Sunday.
Although I appreciate your reasons for suggesting this, I have to say quite firmly and definitely that I am not in favour of it. I would like to take this opportunity to explain why and to express a little of my own thinking about marriage.
My view — and this may jolt you a little, Shirley — is that marriage does not exist in nature and does not warrant the importance that has come to be attached to it.
It is a bourgeoisie imposition, a mere contrivance set up as a matter of human convenience for protecting of inheritance rights, capitalists and property owners.”
Nkrumah’s rule was punctuated by grand corruption, dictatorial tendencies and economic degradation that resulted in two assassination attempts and eventual coup after he foolishly interfered with the army in 1966.
Fathia and children Gamal, Samia and Sekou went to live in Egypt. Nkrumah lived in exile as the “co-president” of the Guinean head of state, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
He died of skin cancer in a Romanian hospital in 1972 at 62, but his ashes were not scattered across Africa as he had indicated in his will.
Fathia died in 2007.
FRANCUISCO MACIAS NGUEMA Equatorial Guinea
One of the most ruthless dictators in post-colonial Africa, Nguema’s country only enjoyed independence from Spain for 145 days in 1968 before the founding president became a “cross between Pol Pot and Mobutu”, as Martin Meredith writes in The State of Africa.
The son of a witchdoctor was gifted with low intelligence and failed exams to qualify for a civil service posting three times. He was to despise academics with a twisted passion. During his reign, the use of the word “intellectual” was treasonable, and Macias Nguema thought it a sign of scholarship to wear glasses, so the bespectacled were detained.
In 1974, the pot-smoking Nguema chased all teachers, alongside a third of the population, to exile, banned newspapers, and closed all libraries and schools. During his 11-year rule, all that children learnt were political slogans. Nguema had the governor of the Central Bank paraded in the capital and executed in 1976 and all the money transferred, alongside the national pharmacy, to his village.
When the director of statistics published a demographic estimate which “The Grand Master of Science, Education and Culture” considered too low. He was dismembered to “help him learn how to count”. Papa Macias also “ordered all former lovers of his current mistresses killed”, notes Meredith, and the husbands of women with whom he entertained ideas of breaking a commandment with murdered.
“The National Miracle” was sentenced to death, at 55, in September 1979 after his cousin, Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the current president, overthrew him.
NELSON MANDELA, South Africa
Madiba is considered, give or take, as one of the world’s living beacons of moral authority, but has his fair share of frailties that has been glossed over by biographers.
When British journalist David James Smith went researching on the unknown Mandela, daughter Zindzi advised that he skirts “the icon image” as he (Mandela) “knows he’s not a saint, he has flaws and weaknesses just like everyone else”.
Smith’s 2010 book, Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years, has been hailed as “no nonsense hatchet job” where we’re informed that his first wife, Evelyn Mase, a nurse, was uncomfortable with Mandela’s peccadilloes with women in the Africa National Congress (ANC) and in particularly, Ruth Mompati, secretary at his law firm. Mandela often took her home to their bedroom, and not to type letters... since “showers shortly followed”.
When Evelyne warned she would pour boiling water on Mompati if their raunchiness did not stop, Mandela became increasingly cold and distant. Mompati later became an MP, South Africa’s ambassador to Switzerland and Mayor of Naledi.
Evelyn, who later became a halcyon in the Mandela story, filed for divorce in 1955 citing desertion, cruelty and repeated assaults. It was finalised in 1958, the same year Mandela wed Winnie.
During his 90th birthday, most of his children snubbed the event at his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape. When she surveyed her family closely, Zindzi Mandela, who was “really upset with how he was treating my mum”, concluded that Tata’s domestic dictatorship and endless spats with Winnie had ripple effects on them as adults: “No wonder, all of us — Madiba’s kids — have had rocky relationships. I filed twice for divorce... tried again... it fell apart. My sister was also having difficulties, she’s separated now. Makgatho also had a second marriage. There is a pattern here.”
Ndileka painted a family canvas of melancholic hues and tension that simmer every now and then, “but wait until he dies. They will come to a boiling point”.
MOBUTU SESE SEKO, DR Congo
Mobutu never missed Sunday mass in over 30 years, in between consulting witchdoctors — such as Senegalese guru Ndiuga Kebe — before taking important decisions while presiding over a brutal, thieving dictatorship.
In the disillusioned manner of most dictators, images preceding television news bulletins showed ‘The Redeemer’ descending, godlike, from the clouds.
On his way to having nine children, Mobutu married Bobi Ladawa, his uncle’s widow, as a second wife in 1980. His first wife Marie Antoinette had died, but he also kept Bobi’s twin sister, Kossia, as a mistress with whom he had two sons, his Belgian son-in-law Pierre Janssen recalls in Inside Mobutu’s Court.
It didn’t end there.
“The president enjoys an almost feudal droit du seigneur,” a former Cabinet minister told Time. “He uses sex as a tool to dominate the men around him. You get money or Mercedes-Benz, and he takes your wife and you work for him.”
“If I ever leave power,” he told Time, “it will be only in conditions of beauty, never under pressure.”
Alas! ‘The Great Leopard’ fled under a hail of bullets and all when Laurent Kabila’s ragtag militia took Kishasa, the capital, in May 1997. The man who kept Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince as his bedside bible died of prostate cancer two months later. Tablets for “rheumatism and syphilis” were found on a table inside his luxury yacht, the Kamanyola.
JACOB ZUMA, South Africa
Zuma (right) currently has four wives of the six he has married. Dlamini-Zuma, the former Home Affairs Minister, divorced him in 1998, while Kate Mantsho Zuma wrote a suicide letter in 2000 terming their marriage as “24 years of hell”.
This April, Zuma, the father of 21 children wed Gloria Ngema, his current fourth wife. For his proclivity to women, the tabloid press has nicknamed the 70-year old “Pants of Love.”
HASTINGS KAMUZU BANDA, Malawi
The ‘President for Life’ never married and had no children, at least officially. However, he kept Cecilia Kadzamira as Malawi’s ‘Official Hostess’.
The man who demanded that his portrait be hanged on the highest wall points, including in churches, and who banned mini-skirts, beards and kissing in public, died in ’97 aged 99.
Thirteen years later, Jim Jumani Johannson appeared claiming to be Banda’s son from an affair with Merene French, Banda’s English secretary when he was in England.
JONAS SAVIMBI, Angola
Savimbi was a ruthless dictator who led the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA) with a messianic sense of destiny, notes Meredith, but possessed a twisted sense of lust: He made one of his teenage nieces, Raquel Matos, one of his concubines. Her parents protested. Savimbi had them executed.
According to his biographer, Fred Fridgland in Jonas Savimbi: A Key to Africa, he chose the wives of his senior officers, but had to sleep with them first before they were married.
After escaping a dozen-plus assassination attempts, Savimbi succumbed to gunfire from government troops in 2002. The widely read intellectual, who was fluent in seven languages, was 68.
JEAN-BEDEL BOKASSA, Central Africa Republic
A dictator with megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur, his uniforms had so many medals for “Service to the State” they were custom-made to accommodate them. Besides crowning himself ‘Emperor’, Bokassa headed 12 ministries. Every exercise book in the whole of Central Africa Republic had his photo staring up at students on the cover.
He had 17 wives, a harem of mistresses and a brood of 55 ‘official’ children. All the wives were housed in different mansions in Bangui, the capital.
He visited most of them during the day, occasioning grinding traffic with his motorcade. The wives were from different countries — Germany, Romania, Cameroon, China, Sweden, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Tunisia — and were known more by their nationalities than names.
“Bokassa spent considerable effort tracking down Martine, a daughter born to a Vietnamese wife he married in Saigon in 1953,” Meredith writes. But the first Martine, whom he adopted, was an imposter. The real Martine was found working in a cement factory in Vietnam.
Bokassa married them off in a public auction. A doctor and army officer won the bids. Their double wedding was graced by several heads of states.
The fake Martine was married by army officer who had a misguided attempt on Bokassa’s life. He was executed. A son born hours after his death was shortly also murdered.
In 1977, he spent $22 million (Sh1.8bn at current exchange rates, or a third of the national revenue) on his coronation as emperor of the ‘Central Africa Empire’, complete with soldiers dressed like 19th Century French cavalrymen. After dinner, Bokassa turned to Robert Galley, the French Corporation Minister, and quipped: “You never noticed, you ate human flesh.”
French paratroopers overthrew him two years later. The man who proclaimed himself the 13th apostle died of a heart attack at 75 in 1996.