Family is the fundamental basis on which society is built. The well-being of society is judged by how happy and healthy marriages are. Unfortunately, in Kenya, marriage, which is the foundation of family, seems to be under heavy attack.
From weird cases of family wrangles, rape and murders we witness nowadays, to high rates of separation and divorce, children born out of wedlock, tolerance to anti-family concepts like prostitution, gay and lesbian ‘marriages’ and many others say it all.
Marriage and family seem not to be getting the seriousness they deserve. Many Kenyans now view this fundamental institution as something optional. That a huge percentage of Kenyans are in ‘come-we-stay’ type of marriages point at something awful. So dire is the situation that in some cases work is seen to be more important than family.
Etched in African tradition is the value attached to family. For instance, married people are said to be likely to live longer and have great emotional support. However, lately things have not been rosy in most homes.
Can this institution reclaim its lost glory? A father was recently reported to have raped his own child in Mombasa. It has become common for wives to kill husbands or hire hit men to do so in Nairobi. Cases of spousal abuse or murder are running rampant across the country.
Basically, the family, as a unit of society, is crumbling like a house of cards. What seemed like an impregnable fortress of values, built on the firm foundation of belief and practice, is turning out to be a castle built in the air.
War on Valentine’s Day
Take last week for instance. Of all the days in the world, Duncan Moseti from Thika refused to give his wife, Margaret Achieng, even a spec of love, on Valentine’s Day. And to make sure that she won’t be getting anything he cut off his penis and flung it out of the window — far away.
Essentially, he severed the roots on which he built his family. Moseti also cut his wife’s breast. “It is absurd,” Agnes Muiruri, an octogenarian clocking her days gracefully in Nairobi’s Ruai area says.
She explains: “When a man cuts his penis and his wife’s breast the symbolism is heavy. What he is saying is that the marriage is over and the family is thus non-existent.” Agnes believes that the current generation has watered down traditional values which were defined by society through existence of families.
She says: “Everything, from celebrations to naming was based on solid family foundations. To call a person you had to link their name to the family they came from. Marriage was not between two people but between two families.”
Chilling murder at home
Clearly, Agnes lived in the golden era. And she issues a damning diagnosis, saying: “Unless the current generation embraces traditional systems of solving conflict and relating within the society then I will also live to see the day marriage will be taboo and not norm.”
Still in February, a man from Gatundu North bizarrely murdered his wife and later committed suicide. Michael Kinyanjui killed his wife and hanged himself afterwards in the family house. Their children had never detected animosity of whatever kind between the couple and were lost for words on discovering what had transpired.
Marriages of convenience
These are indeed unfortunate times for the family. Marriages of convenience seem to be the order of the day. There are more and more women married to rich men whom they don’t like. Husbands are increasingly falling out with their wives. Women no longer feel comfortable in the house. As for children, well, many are wallowing on the streets; the lucky few learnt to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
“The only constant in life is change,” Prof Halimu Shauri, a sociologist and lecturer at Pwani University observes. The good professor says it is the society that is changing.
“At the centre of everything is the fact that our culture is no longer pure. It has been watered down by western influences. The information superhighway has made it easier for us to experience other cultures and ways of life. And what we traditionally had is not as enchanting.”
Over the years the pool of exemplary happy and model families has narrowed. A sentiment that is echoed by Ruth Kinoro, a psychologist and lecturer at Riara University with more than a decade of experience in the field. She says that young people today have very few sources of inspiration for family as traditionally intended.
Ruth recognizes that in the old days marriage conferred an important status. Women grew up learning that marriage needed perseverance and resilience. Men too received lessons on how to keep the family safe and sufficient. This juxtaposes great contrast with the situation today.
Liberal, tolerant society
“When our forefathers lived, it was not proper that a man or a woman single-handedly raised a family. Today the story is quite different. For them, it was very important that a man lived with a wife and a woman had a husband. In the event of a spouse’s death, ethics were in place to find a suitable replacement in good time,” Ms Kinoro says.
According to her, the biggest problem with the current society is that life is too liberal. Anything goes, she says. All behavior is permitted, euphemized and accompanied with a proper explanation. Partly because we are learning to be more tolerant and accepting of flaw and also because people find it fanciful to chart their own paths.
Marriage now optional
There is a lot of individualism and nobody cares so much about what the other does, even in family set ups. So much that we now have families in which children are crooks but parents have no clue.
Importance of family has also diminished. For instance, she says, it is becoming trendy for many — especially among the learned lot — to declare that they don’t want to get married.
“People are more aware of what they want today and won’t hold back to exercise that which they believe. Some don’t want marriage but want children. With all these divergent ideologies the family, as traditionally defined, is on a precarious position,” the psychologist says.
More kids bornout of wedlock
Nzilani Muia is one such person. At 28, she still feels marriage is the last thing on her mind. She admits she is not looking forward to settle down with a man: Not in marriage or in a come-we-stay arrangement. Nzilani has developed a loathing for husbands based on what she has witnessed with other women in her life.
“Why should I give my all to a man who will eventually want to include other women in our lives for his own selfish desires?” she posits. “That is not what I want and for that reason I will live for myself.”
She will, however, have a child. With plenty of suitors milling around, she is sure to find a suitable mate who she will “swiftly kick back to wherever he came from afterwards”. Nzilani does not see anything amiss with her plans. Mother and child will be enough to form a family, she says.
It is a view that makes little sense to Tom and Winfried Lichuma. The couple, authors of marriage and parenting books, believe that the apparent dipping level of morality in the society is the direct result of dwindling family prospects.
“Discipline is imparted in the family. What happens then when parents are not together and the children seem to be running parallel lives?” Winfried asks rhetorically. Traditionally, she says, households stayed accountable in upholding values. The primary point of applying values is the family, she says. Tom holds similar views as his wife, adding that the current generation is the main participant in bringing down the roof on the family.
Decline in religion
Osman Ahmed from Wajir recognizes the familiar spectacle of degenerating families. He feels a decline in religion, an important aspect of society that help glue families together could be another reason. He has witnessed the energy with which brothers and sisters pulled at each other’s shirts over inheritance. He has seen husbands swing fists and wives wield kitchen knives.
“It is because everyone is selfish; everyone wants everything for themselves. No one is willing to sacrifice to benefit the other within the family. We are titillating on the brink when values no longer matter,” he says.
Osman believes many Muslim families are an exception, though, because of adherence to values. A Muslim man is allowed to marry up to four wives. The co-wives learn to work in synchrony such that the nest remains relatively peaceful as long as everyone holds onto their role.
In the opinion of Jenifer Karina, a marriage counsellor, the current crisis is not only because the current generation cares little about values. She says: “We have become people who want so much and give very little back. And it all stems from marriage: when husbands and wives don’t understand their role in the family. The parties are married because of selfish reasons: Each one wants to be happy regardless of the other party.”
Which is what transpired between Soshin Njeri and Moses Otieno. At first, as it happens with many budding relationships, neither could keep their hands off the other. The couple married even before graduating from the university. A son followed and thereafter a daughter in quick succession.
“Over the years the little fights and disagreements piled up and caused a lot of resentment. Responsibilities had made it hard for us to have time for each other. Romance died a natural death and five years down the line we couldn’t stay married,” Moses tells Crazy Monday.
The couple is separated. Moses can only visit his children. It is, however, difficult after Njeri moved in with a new man.“I hate the idea that she moved on quite easily and brought my children under a new man, but I will never stay away from my children. I still want to be in their lives and provide for them. This is not what I had wished for, but then again, I won’t beat myself forever over it,” Otieno adds.
It should worry, “because such turn of events perpetuates an unending cycle where children from the family will experience the same upheavals: It is what they saw growing up,” Prof Kinoro opines. Where are we headed to?“That is a good question for all of us. I am hoping that we won’t continue downhill. Frankly though I am not sure about that question,” She concludes.