When Sylvester Mwendwa (pictured) and Elijah Kimani of Kisauni in Mombasa County, Kenya realized that the woman whom they both believed to be faithful was cheating on both of them, they struck an unusual deal: The men decided that they should both marry the woman and live together in peace.
The arrangement allows both men to live with Joyce Wambui in the same house and both will raise any children she bears. However, the BBC reports that the marriage could only be recognized if the men could prove that polyandry is part of their customs. However, the BBC’s David Okwembah says polyandry is not practiced by any community in Kenya.
Mr Mwendwa, 26, told the BBC Focus on Africa that he knows his “marriage” agreement may not be legal, but decided to enter into a contract wit Kimani to avoid any conflicts. “It could have been very dangerous if the other man would have come to her house and caught me,” he said. “So our agreement is good as it sets boundaries and helps us keep peace.”
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The agreement was praised by Adhalah Abdulrahman, a community policing officer who saw the two men fighting over the woman in Mombasa county, the Daily Nation newspaper reports. As it turns out, the woman, a widow with twins, did not want to leave either man. Neither of the men, for their part, did not want to leave the woman. Mr Abdulrahman said the men arrived at his office with an handwritten agreement outlining how they will will respect their union.
“We discussed everything and they agreed that even if the woman gives birth they will raise the child as their own since they have been taking care of the woman’s children together and paying her rent equally,” Abdulrahman said. Mwendwa also claims that he got permission from the woman’s parents to enter the agreement and will pay a bride fee when he is ready.
The woman (or “bride-to-be”) did not want to be identified.
Watch the news story of this unusual marriage arrangement below:
Here is what legal experts told the Nation about the legality of Mwendwa and Kimani agreement:
Ms Judy Thongori, a family lawyer told the Nation that polyandry is more abnormal than illegal since the laws that govern marriage in Kenya do not clearly forbid it. Marriage in Kenya is regulated by the Marriage Act, and the African Christian Marriages and Divorce Act and supplemented by customary laws of different communities.
“The laws we have do not talk about it but for such a union to be recognised in Kenya, it has to be either under the statutory law or as customary marriage. The question we should ask now is whether these people come from communities that have been practising polyandry,” she said.
Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua added: “When you look at the Constitution, it says that the family is the fundamental unit of the society. It says a person, not persons, has a right to marry a person of the opposite sex based on free consent.
“If they are able to show that polyandry has been their custom, that is fine but we don’t know any Africa community that does that,” Mr Mutua said.
Article 45 of the Constitution adds that marriage can be recognised if it follows a set of traditions, religious practices, personal or family law, as long as those practices do not violate the law.
When locals caught wind of the arrangement, many were not pleased.
“We have never heard of something like this in Kenya,” Tumaini Juma, a Kisauni resident, told the Daily Nation. “It is uncouth, untraditional unbiblical and against the holy books, including the Koran. Why on earth would a woman be shared by two men? They should be taken to court and punished.”
Mwendwa, a butcher by trade, says he’s been living in fear since he went public with his special arrangement. “I cannot go back home because I do not feel safe, I know Wambui is hurt, but you can never joke with a woman; she is cable (sic) of doing anything” he told the Nation.
To make matters worse, his boss reportedly fired him from his job after hearing about the special arrangement.
But Mwendwa’s resolve to make this union work has not faded–even as he faces death threats. “I love her for real and I was ready to do anything for her even if it meant sharing her with another man.