Kenyans still remember how a livid retired President Kibaki, in a live TV address, emphasised that he only has ‘one family’. Speculation had been rife that a certain ‘Narc activist’ was his second wife.
Early this year, Machakos Governor Dr Alfred Mutua posted a photograph of him and Ms Lilian Ng’ang’a, the County’s ‘First Lady’. But in a quick rejoinder, in this newspaper, Dr Josephine Thitu, clarified she was Mutua’s legally married wife, saying, “I got married to then Alfred on July 1, 2000, at Nairobi Baptist, Ngong Road, in a church ceremony. We are still married, and have three children. A boy 7-years-old and twins aged 4.”
Sought to comment on this story, Josephine said: “We have already talked about this, and I don’t know what kind of truth you want, because the truth is out there. I can’t talk about Lilian. You go and ask Dr Mutua. I have told you my side, go and get Mutua’s comments.”
Businesswoman-cum-politician Esther Passaris has in the past talked about the tribulations of parallel families.
“I want to start a foundation to help many young girls who end up in such situations,” said Passaris in earlier conversation.
In an interview with Drum magazine last year (March 2013), Esther talked about her life and relationship with tycoon Pius Ngugi.
Indeed many politicains and wealthy men have secret families that ‘come out’ during death or burials. But afew like Senator Bonny Khalwale, COTU boss Francis Atwoli and former Budalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala have been open about their polygamous marriages.
“I know a number of my colleagues who are living a lie. It is a sign of direspect to cohabit with someone under one roof, have children and still face the cameras and deny they even exist, only for them to crop up during burial to fight for property,” said Khalwale.
Recently a wealthy politician had to plead with his family to accept a parallel family he has been secretly keeping for years.
Most times, it takes tragedy for the parallel family to crawl out of the woodworks. Two months ago, three women fought over the body of a matatu driver in Kitengela. This man, from Western Kenya, had two ‘official’ wives — one in the village and another in Kitengela.
But unknown to these two women, the man had yet another wife in Kitengela. When funeral arrangements had been finalised, and the body was to be transported to Western, she showed up with hired goons demanding that proceedings be halted until her bride price was paid in full.
So widespread is this phenomenon that practically every Kenyan wife suspects there could be another woman with children ‘out there’.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 2008/2009 statistics show that 13 out of every 100 married Kenyan women have co-wives. But these are the legitimate ones.
Men from Western Kenya and Nyanza might openly declare their second and third wives, but in communities where polygamy is a no-go zone, parallel families are so common that the man sitting next to you right now, probably has one.
But why not just man up and declare your other wives?
“You don’t know women. You will be killed. Have you forgotten that last year, a woman called Wairimu allegedly paid thugs Sh40,000 to finish her husband because he was having an affair with some woman?” posed a journalist who did not wish to be named because he is ‘happily’ married.
It is not just fear of legit wives that causes men to go parallel.
“I have a reputation to protect, and in my circles, being seen with two wives is simply just not the sort of thing you do. It could destroy my children, even affect my business,” says a lawyer who has three parallel families.
For others, it is the search for male heirs that causes them to go ‘underground.’
“I love my wife and we have four wonderful daughters. But when I impregnated a college student, and she gave me a son, there is absolutely no way I was going to leave her. We have been together for six years,” says Patrick (not his real name).
Other men keep parallel families as a form of ‘insurance’.
“You never know with life. An accident can wipe out all your children. Or they could end up as failures and drunkards. You need a ‘secret weapon’ out there. You need a plan B,” says ‘Muthee’, a 66-year-old businessman in Ngara. Not surprisingly, many women, however, find parallel unions despicable.
“Why would I want to be second option when I can be the first option? I want to know that I will always be there as a wife, no matter what, even if the relationship became sour at some stage.
I don’t want to be hiding when I see my man because I am afraid I will meet his wife,” poses Nairobi’s Rosyline Nyakenyanya on a BBC online debate. All this starts with a harmless one night stand between a married man and a single woman leads to a second, and a third take at the cookie jar. Before long, the condoms are thrust aside, a baby is on the way.
Wracked by guilt wife B wonders in the lines of American crooner Millie Jackson: ‘Am I wrong to hunger for the gentleness of your touch, knowing you have someone else at home who needs you just as much?”
-Additional reporting by John Lawrence and Cate Mukei