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Why you need a wife to serve as Member of Parliament in Kenya

By Eric Nyakagwa | March 12th 2021

A recent viral video clip in which Lurambi MP Titus Khamala is seen chiding ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna over his marital status has rekindled debate on the place of marriage in elective politics. Sifuna was roasted for his frequent attacks on, among others, Amani leader Musalia Mudavadi yet he is, allegedly, yet to erect a rural ‘simba’.

In the clip, a hilarious Khamala, who is also the Presiding Bishop of the Cornerstone Church, also wonders whether Sifuna has a jiko going by how he’s often in the interwebs attacking rivals of former opposition leader Raila Odinga at some devil hour.

“You are forever on the internet even at 1am, do you have a wife? Do you have children? If you don’t have a wife, tell us we can get one for you,” Khamala lambasts the 2017 Nairobi senatorial aspirant. Contrary to the insinuations, Sifuna, however, wed his campus crush in 2010.

But by questioning Sifuna’s marital status and even dismissing him as a toddler who ought to respect his elders, Khamala’s intention was to demolish the lawyer’s standing on the domestic front, given the premium marital status is given in many African societies in relation to leadership, even in the 21st century.

MP Johanna Ng’eno was forced to marry in 2018 at  44

Remember the case of Emurua Dikirr MP Johanna Ng’eno? He was forced to marry in 2018 at  44 to escape being ridiculed as a senior bachelor in Parliament. The MP had in 2016 dismissed his marital status as a non-issue but it turned out to be a hot potato during the 2017 election campaigns  Pressure also came from elders insisting that in Kipsigis culture, a leader must have a wife.

Ng’eno eventually relented and married a Maasai bride from Narok. According to Dr Mengo Nyakweba, a sociologist, men with many wives and children traditionally stood a better chance at leadership, the reasoning being that their ability to control large families meant they could withstand the pressures of leading a community. 

Nyachae's father had 15 wives and over 100 children

Senior Chief Musa Nyandusi, the father of the late Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae, for instance, had 15 wives and over 100 children - for whom he erected a school. In his memoirs, Walking Through the Corridors of Service, Nyachae recalls how his father and elders pressured him to take a second and a third wife. Unknown to him, his father had already identified him as his preferred heir apparent. Nyachae tried resisting but still ended up with five wives and over 20 children.

First Cabinet and early politicians were polygamous men

The story is true of chiefs in the pre-independence era: Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu, Senior Chief Njiiri and Senior Chief Muhoho all had many wives and kids they couldn’t count. Even after Kenya’s independence in 1963, the first Cabinet and early politicians were polygamous men.

Since most had rural wives, becoming city politicians saw many take second and third wives with whom they could flaunt during State Balls at City Hall and the House on the Hill. An example was founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who on top of an English wife, Edna Clarke, also married Mama Ngina Kenyatta, then over 40 years his junior and who became Kenya’s First Lady. Never mind Kenyatta then still had first wife, the countrified Grace Wahu then living in the Dagoretti area.

The other one was the late Kangundo MP and nationalist Paul Ngei who often appeared with his three wives even though the sitting at the dais was reserved for one, creating protocol nightmares as Duncan Ndegwa recalls in his 2009 memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles: My Story.

Polygamous men were deemed tough dudes who met societal expectations and Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange has had his many wives fighting for his Sh30 billion estate for over 30 years.

Njonjo only wanted a mzungu wife

While some joined the government before marriage on account of their academic credentials, they were soon forced to quit the bachelor’s club under pressure: First Attorney General Charles Njonjo was often pressurised by Kenyatta to marry one of the Koinange daughters and his neighbour in Kabete, but Njonjo only wanted a mzungu wife. Kenyatta the president was uncomfortable being ‘advised by a bachelor,’ notes Ndegwa.

Charles Njonjo wedding in 1972.

Njonjo, at 50, married choir girl, Margaret Bryson in November 1972. He had often seen her at All Saints Cathedral beside bumping into her at Kenya High School where Margaret taught French and Njonjo was a  board member.
Samuel Ombaba, a Gusii elder, says it was not uncommon for delegations to be dispatched to Nairobi to prod unmarried civil servants to make haste.

“It was the same case for those who have been identified by the community as future political leaders. Sometimes, elders even identified ideal spouses and marriages arranged,” he recalls.

Political analyst Dr Wang’uhu Gitonga says, “If you are not married, no one can trust you to lead them. You cannot even chair a funeral committee or take charge of the local cattle dip.

“One must have his own house in the locality even if he has built a home elsewhere. And not just a house, it must be functional; with smoke billowing out of the fireplace.” 

Kenyatta was not amused that his personal doctor was single

Kenyatta’s personal physician the late Dr Njoroge Mungai, was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had presidential ambitions, but alas! he was also a playboy wreaking havoc and leaving broken hearts in his wake.
David Branch in his 2011 book, Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011, says  Dr Mungai had open flings and “was more at ease in casinos than at the ministry.”

Kenyatta was not often amused that his personal doctor went home to himself.  “From now on, all your affairs must be foreign!” the Masters of Ceremony joked during Mungai’s wedding!
 In his book, The People’s Representative and the Tyrants, former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere says Mungai lost the chance to position himself as one of the potential successors of Mzee Kenyatta as people were not ready for a “bachelor president.”

Ghana's Nkrumah 'only married for the Presidency'

But it is not just in Kenya where marriage and leadership are conjoined. There is, for instance, the famous case of Ghana’s founding president Kwame Nkrumah who ascended to the throne as prime minister in 1957  while still a bachelor. Initially, Nkurumah had an affair with Isis Nashid, an Egyptian working with the colonial government in Cairo, but she later left for her native country while pregnant with his child and was later married.

Upon rising to power, Nkrumah was advised by a friend that it was proper for him to get a wife, ideally the lady with his child. He contacted Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser to get him a wife: Fathia Halim Ritzk, a young university student in Cairo and later a teacher. When they wed, women in Ghana cried for weeks on end wondering why he didn’t pick a local. Nkrumah was 48 and Fathia 23.

“I only married for the Presidency,” Nkrumah often said of the marriage that was blessed with three children and for which he refused press coverage.

In the United States, a strong family and moral probity are some of the fundamental considerations when it comes to leadership. Every presidential hopeful parades his family.
Of 46 American Presidents, only one - John Buchanan - the 15th President, was a life-long bachelor. Little wonder he only served one term of four years to 1861!


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