Guest Post: Returning the Gaze

Representing poverty and precarity in a post-colonial world

Words: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

To a greater power and a better nature you, free, are subject, and these create the mind in you that the heavens have not in their charge.
Therefore, if the world around you goes astray, in you is the cause and in you let it be sought.

~ Marco the Lombard’s counsel, from Dante’s Divine Comedy

Novelist Pankaj Mishra, referring to “the history of modernisation”, observes how despite pretentions to rationality and order described by the American originators of the term in the 1950s and 1960s, modernisation’s history “is largely one of carnage and bedlam” that disproportionately afflicts a targeted,othered”, dehumanised, inferiorised population invariably classified as poor, who by implication are also made responsible for the pathetic state in which they find themselves.

Of Bravado And The Kenyan Man’s Masculinity Problem

My older brother who was a decade my senior, had a collection of unusual stories. In his stories, the humour was found in the irony of life. Once he told a story of a motor mouth character he knew of at the Kisumu bus park. A gifted hustler who could talk the hind legs off a donkey. His stage name was Olago Queen Cake aka Olago Q.C. He could be entertaining but most of his notoriety came from his regular display of crass behaviour. His insults were straight out of the book of an underpaid and overworked cane cutter in Awendo. People avoided a verbal spat with him for the fear of a public humiliation.  He was an aggressive man who never passed up an opportunity to get into an argument. Over time, he had built up a reputation as a guy who liked to stir trouble and some came to admire his audacity.

In The Land Of Braves, Carry A Big Stick

Do one brave thing today…then run like hell

Bravery is a word only associated with special forces and male marital confessions. Confessing to your wife about an illicit affair is an act of bravery. Spontaneous bravery, where random men save elderly citizens from burning buildings are rarely heard of in the city.

One has to venture into the countryside where acts of bravery are an everyday affair. Fearless men still prowl the rural thickets. Acts that would be deemed literally foolish in the city are regular fare as a result of an uneasy relationship between man and wildlife.

In the country side,  men are expected to defend their homesteads against any dangers. From lurking cattle thieves, granary plunderers, pesky night runners to wild animals. Real men sleep with weapons besides their beds because when the family faces danger, they are expected to be the first responders and usually the only, line of defense.

Papa Was A Rolling Stone

“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance”.

Ruth Runkel

I do not have kids of my own…none that I know of at least. On that score alone, I am the most ill suited to give advice on fatherhood. What do I know about midnight runs to the chemist and the pressure of paying school fees or the agony of a teacher’s strike?

But this article is about transitioning into manhood and why it is important for boys to be mentored into mature men. In Drivers of Violence- a study on Male Disempowerment in The African Context, Kenyan author Anzetse Were makes a strong appeal for concerted Male empowerment.

“African men in particular must make a deliberate point to acquire knowledge and actively seek mentors to help them transition into manhood. Once those in our generation evolve into men, the future generations will be better off. For their children will have mature men to guide and encourage their transition into manhood.”

Even though my own father passed on when I was in my puberty years I have never lacked fathers. Traditionally, I was brought up to understand that anyone who was of my father’s generation was a father.

Many assigned themselves to me, many others I adopted along the way. I quickly learnt that fatherhood is not limited to a biological link. Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. All one has to do is pay attention.

The Marriage Bill Is Good News For Mistresses

The country is in the midst of multiple crises. Rampant crime, terrorist threats, relentless poachers, grand corruption et al but parliament, our elected leaders decided they have other pressing matters at hand. Why can’t a man be allowed to marry a second wife if he wants to? The defensive arguments that follow are juvenile with the typical scape goats of African culture and bible verses thrown in as irrefutable proof. The proponents of African culture and fans of King Solomon, managed to successful make an amendment to the marriage bill with a clause that will allow a married man to enter into marriage with another woman without the first wife’s consent.

Some critics argued that Parliament is trying to undermine our monogamous bliss by slipping polygamy through the back door. They obviously do not understand our MPs. Parliamentarians only look out for their self-interests and they just enacted a law that allows them to marry their mistresses without the messy procedure of getting a divorce first. Divorce is tricky because it involves sharing wealth with a woman you disagreed with and that is a scenario that had to be avoided at all costs.

Those who argue that polygamy threatens the stability of family structure are exaggerating. The family is indeed the basic unit of society but its definition is fluid not limited to a nuclear unit.  A similar argument can be leveled that enforced monogamy is threatening the institution of family and has led to an unprecedented rate of marriage abandonment and a proliferation of single parent households. We are a society that swears by the rule of serial monogamy. You can have us many wives as you want as long as it is one at a time.

In reality, the push towards polygamy would only benefit high status males, capable of providing for multiple wives. The ability to maintain multiple women is in itself a status symbol. But we are not talking about recreational sex and lust. To be actually married to multiple women and remain committed to providing emotional and financial support is not for the fainthearted.  Polygamous marriages follow the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. Men who prove ability to be good fathers, husbands, providers, leaders will always have women competing for their attention. To assume that women have a problem sharing a man is flawed. Many have made that choice and continue to make that choice.

Historically, men controlled the purse strings and marriages were thus viewed as business arrangements that were designed to produce heirs and accumulate wealth. That changed. Marriage for love is now the new standard which is why ‘we kiss the bride’ in-front of multitudes and declare our affection in a public ceremony.

However, routinely henpecked regular Joes have no illusions about the pecking order in contemporary marriage. It is a lot easier to sneak around and deal with the consequences of infidelity when you eventually get caught.

Therefore, the argument of a man’s right to choice of marriage has to apply equally to women. There are several women who would advocate for multiple male partners to cater for their varied needs in a marriage but this society would never accent to that because it is not biblical and more importantly Un-African.
Polygamy isn’t the issue here. The big pink elephant in the room is adultery.

Parliamentarians are just trying to legitimize extra marital affairs.