Postcard from... Nairobi


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A senior detective faces an abrupt halt to her promotion prospects after her husband refused to reveal his bank statements to the vetting panel that has the final say on her appointment. The reason for his refusal? His wife told the public panel – after a request to give her reasons in private was rejected – that she believes he has a second polygamous marriage.

The spat offers an insight into a practice that is common in many Kenyan communities, but not always accepted. It was only last year that such unions were formally legalised in a bid to align civil laws with cultural ones, providing a measure of protection to second and third wives who faced being disinherited when their husband died.

Perhaps inevitably, the law enjoyed an overwhelming show of support from male MPs, but several female lawmakers walked out, denouncing it as a roll-back for women’s freedoms. Surprisingly, the women objected to it not for legalising polygamy, but because the final draft no longer contained a provision forcing the men to first seek permission from their first wives. MP Mohammed Junet scoffed at objections, saying: “When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa.”