Skip to comments.Hapless president stuck in the middle as two wives go to war
Posted on 01/14/2004 1:51:52 AM PST by propertius
Hapless president stuck in the middle as two wives go to war By Adrian Blomfield in Nairobi (Filed: 14/01/2004)
Kenya has become transfixed by a bedroom farce engulfing President Mwai Kibaki's family.
The septuagenarian president has been revealed as having two wives, and the two women have been engaged in a very public spat.
A New Year's Eve party attended by many dignitaries broke up in chaos after the First Lady became engaged in a shouting match with the vice-president. A few days later she forced her husband to sack his right-hand man.
President Kibaki with his First Lady, Lucy - one of his two wives Political pundits say the scandal has done what could be irredeemable damage to the administration just a year after its landslide election victory.
Last month the press revealed that, as well as being married to Lucy Kibaki, the president had a second wife, Mary Wambui, and another daughter, Winnie.
Afterwards, both women were seen at state functions, usually on alternate days, but it swiftly became apparent that this seemingly cosy menage belied hidden tensions.
Matters came to a head at a New Year's Eve state dinner attended by Lucy. Moody Awori, the doddery but amiable vice-president, turned towards her and proposed a toast to "the Second Lady".
Mrs Kibaki was not amused at what Mr Awori insisted was a "slip of the tongue". Her husband and his aides tried to mollify her as the vice-president launched into a long-winded apology, but the First Lady had the bit between her teeth. She flounced out and refused to attend the night's main festivities.
It was all reminiscent of a New Year function in 1976 when Daniel arap Moi, then vice-president, tried to persuade his wife to dance with Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first head of state. She refused and so Mr Moi divorced her, assuming the presidency as a single man two years later.
That scandal was suppressed - but not this one. A statement, purportedly written by the First Lady but bearing the name of her husband, was released last week insisting that Mr Kibaki had one wife - Lucy. "Kindly refrain from making references about any other purported member of my immediate family," the statement added.
In earlier times such words would have been an ominous warning to the press. No longer. Television bulletins gave blanket coverage to the saga.
It was revealed that Mr Kibaki had even paid a dowry of several goats and cows to secure the hand of Kenya's "Second Lady".
There is serious concern at Lucy Kibaki's perceived meddling in politics. At her insistence the president's chief aide, Matere Keriri, was sent on indefinite leave. The two had clashed over the president's diary and Mr Keriri was also seen as an ally of the First Lady's arch-rival.
Many people are appalled, less by the news that the president has two wives - which is legal in Kenya - than by the sense that he cannot seem to control either of them.
In a society where many still believe that a woman has her place, the president's competence and, more importantly, his virility have been called into question.
An article in the Kenya Times read: "The recent happenings in Mombasa convinced many of us Kenyans that President Kibaki may be too weak physically, mentally, psychologically and even as head of his own family to provide effective and sound leadership."
A columnist on the East African Standard took a similar line, asking: "Who is in control at State house?"
Mr Kibaki is clearly in awe of his first wife. Diplomatic sources say she has a reputation for using physical strength to settle arguments, not just with her husband but also with cabinet ministers.
Among the population there is a sense that things must change. "If Kibaki cannot control his wife, how can he run this country?" a cobbler asked. "No-one will ever vote for him again. He is finished unless he divorces her and sends her to a hut up-country to look after his chickens."
But it is unlikely the president can do without his wife. A stroke last year has led to memory lapses and generally poor health. Mrs Kibaki nurses him physically and assists him in periods of befuddlement, often offering him the impartial advice he rarely gets from his ethnically motivated kitchen cabinet.