30 April 2014

Kenya's Marriage Bill

The Kenya Law Reports website has a useful summary of the new marriage bill here.

Assuming that this is correct:

  • Christian, Hindu and civil marriages are monogamous. Only Muslim and traditional marriages are polygamous. First/prior wives must be informed, and can register objection, but can't halt the marriage.
  • Divorce is still difficult - I think it's still not possible to just decide to part ways, and one party has to be at fault. But a monogamous marriage can be annulled if one party was already married (this would apparently also void the marriage).
  • Penalties are interesting - I wonder how enforceable those criminal offenses will be? (which, of course, does not mean that they should not exist).
  • Curious: 'Court may order a party to refrain from molesting a spouse or former spouse' (why thanks) but: 'No proceedings may be brought to compel one spouse to cohabit with the other Sec 84(2). However court may order restitution of conjugal rights Sec 84(3).' So the whole concept of marital rape hasn’t gotten much traction yet.

Can I now have several husbands? The law speaks of polygamy, not polyandry. I think someone should challenge this in court. Asking mostly as a matter of principle, though, as even one Kenyan husband seems to require more work than I'm willing to put in, what with their inability to look after themselves like a normal grown up.

On reflection, I might rather have a wife. Friends assured me that this was possible under traditional marriages, so I guess I’ll have to wait until my ovaries kick it completely, and then argue continuation of my family line and preservation of property. There’s an old Merc to be had, ladies!

A couple of other thoughts, mostly drawn from Facebook discussions:

I have no issues with polygamy – as long as it’s between consenting partners. This is a flaw in the bill. Someone argued that this didn’t really matter, and that in the west, men didn’t seek consent for a string of mistresses and girlfriends either. Not that it’s really of any importance what the west does or doesn’t (bit of a red herring argument), but the whole concept of marriage (as legislated by the state, or regulated by other institutions) is that it has implications. In this case, mostly to do with property and inheritance.

That’s a substantial issue, and you cannot assume that people are ‘wealthy and wise’ (as proposed by that Facebook commenter) nor, in fact, that they leave a will, let alone a reasonable one - see plenty of court battles just in Kenya, and corpses being perma-frosted in the morgue because they can’t be buried. It is not fair to a partner in marriage who builds family wealth jointly with his/her partner to then have to split this with a second family who was taken on without consent. I think most men would be reluctant, too, if their wife took a second husband who then, in the event of her death, claimed part of the property that he put years and lots of effort into creating with her.

The marriage bill does not actually give blanket authorisation to polygamous marriages - Christian, Hindu and civil marriages are still monogamous. So from a property perspective, apart from making sure that her property rights are clearly documented, it makes sense for a woman to insist on one of those. You can't really legislate for the emotional hurt of finding out that your partner plays away, but as far as property etc are concerned, the marriage bill allows women to avoid the implications of being in a polygamous marriage by choosing a marriage form that is monogamous.

Having said that, I think even children born to a girlfriend/mistress/lover are entitled to a share of the man's property, and to maintenance (and, from the perspective of the child, that's fair). So there's that. I guess for women the main risk really is to have no own income, no own assets, and/or to not have proper documentation of co-owned assets.

Stephen Partington also notes the difficulties of context and transition:

‘A customary marriage, for example, is polygamous (no problem there to a great extent) unless the couple agree to it being monogamous and get a certificate asserting that they agreed that it would be monogamous, as far as I read it. But that ‘paperwork’, that ‘certificate’. It would work if women were all fantastically educated with regard to this law and its requirements, and weren’t, prior to marriage, in situations of relative poverty and other circumstances of inequality. Unfortunately, in Kenya women in the vast majority ARE in these categories, meaning that they can be exploited in all manner of ways, and you and I know how many men work: certificates will be denied them by their husbands, meaning more court cases and trouble for often uneducated women; certain disadvantaged women (and most polygamous marriages will involve this group) will not be made aware of the provisions of the law until a second wife is obtained; a man can just get a second wife without the first’s consent (even if he knows, by word of mouth, that the first didn’t want to be in a polygamous relationship) if he works quickly or claims that he never knew her wishes; and so on. The law provides that poor and uneducated women will be disproportionately held captive and abused, and as such is a class/inequality crime as a much as a gender crime. This ‘opt in’ to monogamy in a customary marriage is a huge problem.’

Legal eagles – any thoughts?

14 April 2014

Crowdsourcing Information: Is the Maasai Fabric Maasai?

In a Refinery article I posted on Facebook yesterday, a checked fabric was described as 'Buffalo Plaid', and Kui L Irungu pointed out that it was Maasai fabric. Or is it? When did the Maasai start wearing what is identified as a quintessentially Maasai fabric? Does anyone know?

Not that many obvious answers on the internet. Since the Maasai are pastoralists, I don't think they would have engaged in fabric production, which is not to say that the shuka itself, made from other materials, but in distinct colours and patterns, isn't a Maasai item.

This link describes the origins of the textile trade from South East Asia, which is also a fascinating tale of globalisation and colonialism. Two pointers in it: the use of black-blue and red, based on the available natural dyes, in Madagascar, and the fact that fabrics were used as a means of payment in the slave trade. There is a mention of West Africans becoming particularly fond of red and blue checked cottons known as 'Guinea Cloth' in the 18th century.

P. 15 has a para on the Maasai, referring to the end of the 20th century: 'The Maasai continue to affect distinctive dress while rejecting both Islam and Christianity. Their tourist paintings show them invariably clad in single red woollen blankets originally imported from England, although they now drape themselves in an average of four lengths of thick striped or checked cotton, called shuka, which is produced locally for sale to both the Maasai and tourists.'

If you have any useful information or links, please comment!

11 April 2014

Behave, or Bono!

Ian Cox (@IanECox), forever fond of prodding bears with sticks and such things, brought to my attention that there was a bit of dispute on social media about the Emmanuel Jal/Eric Wainaina Southern Sudan peace concert that took place yesterday in Nairobi, and was sponsored by Oxfam:

Ayom Wol Dhal and other people raised the issue that Emmanuel Jal may not be quite neutral and peacey enough for a peace concert for Southern Sudan. Ayom Wol Dhal is the editor in chief of the South Sudan Independent and, in an article, says that Emmanuel Jal has made repeat tribal comments on his Twitter account, including unsubstantiated allegations against Southern Sudan president Salva Kiir. Here’s the Facebook post that carries the full story.

That is, I would imagine, less than ideal. More importantly, though, I do as ever wonder how a (Nairobi) concert is going to fix a civil war? I only have one explanation: If the joint Jal/Wainaina intervention doesn’t bring Machar and Kiir to their senses, threats will be escalated: We’ll have no choice but to BRING GELDOF AND BONO. Possibly even without a UN Security Council resolution. So there!

Oxfam are being asked questions, too, and obligingly have said on the concert website, under ‘How is Oxfam involved’:

‘We're putting on this concert as we believe that there needs to be a counter-narrative to the messages of violence and hurt that are currently coming from South Sudan. We want to give space to voices of unity, reconciliation and peace. We are lucky to have five great performers from South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya sharing the stage for this event, so we can bring their musical voices to you, either through radio in South Sudan, on TV in Kenya, or over the internet to reach you, wherever you are in the world.’

*Eyeroll*. Yes yes. I trust that all these people are listening avidly – from Crisis Group: ‘The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is hosting almost 70,000 civilians fleeing ethnic reprisals, but its badly outgunned peacekeepers are no match for the thousands of heavily armed forces and militias.’ (this is not, before you get worked up about this, a comment on the efficiency or, clearly, otherwise of UNMISS, but on the scale of what can be technically described as a ‘complex emergency’).

Also, this does not really say how Oxfam is involved (Money? For the venue and the equipment? Performance fee for the artists? Tickets were for sale, so did the whole event break even?), only why. Which bit of Oxfam was involved? Inquiring minds want to know. Civilians giving Oxfam donations for concerts should certainly want to know.

Ian tried to engage Oxfam advisor Sam Rosmarin on the issue, but ended up concluding: ‘You're beyond the pale with your obfuscation. Shoulda gone to law school.’

I will leave you with a link to Wainaina’s lyrics that inspired the event title, Baby Don't Go.

Now baby must go, or my eyes will be stuck in the back of my head when the wind changes.

PS: I think they may even have used Comic Sans on the concert website. Surely one must draw the line somewhere, and if we don’t draw it at Comic Sans, then the terrorists will definitely have won.

10 April 2014

The Wisdom of Children?

Another WTF from the World of Do-Gooding: Just spotted an ad from Raleigh International who are looking for ‘volunteers aged 18-25 for Raleigh ICS, a UK government funded development programme that brings together young people to make a difference in some of the poorest communities around the world.’

Those volunteers will be sent to India, Nicaragua or Tanzania for ten weeks to

‘focus on water and sanitation and natural resource management, and you will take part in a number of activities to affect change in these areas. These could include:
  • Surveying the local community on their needs and the issues that affect them.
  • Developing campaigns which inspire local people to take action.
  • Working with local youth or women’s groups to raise awareness of development issues.
  • Working on sustainable construction projects to help build infrastructure in the local area, such as gravity feed water systems or composting toilets.
  • Training the local community on developing and maintaining these projects, to ensure that the benefits continue to be felt for future generations.’

Yup. Because it takes British 18 year olds to ‘inspire’ Tanzanian grown ups, with a solid knowledge of their environment, ‘to take action’ and to acquire ‘awareness of development issues’. And because there is hardly anyone around in the ‘local communities’ who could build infrastructure, or would know how to maintain such projects.

Incidentally, they also need to fundraise for their trip. So why not bloody send the cash and hire a local fundi who knows what s/he is doing, can use the income, and doesn’t create a situation where a British kid with exactly zero experience of what it takes to survive on little money in another country lectures grown ups who’ve lived and survived in that place?

Patronising much?