Polygamous marriages tearing apart families in Gicumbi District

By Jean d’Amour Mugabo
On 9 November 2017 at 01:48

“I have two wives. I married the second one after the first could not get pregnant”, says Justus Bakesigaki, citizen of Kaniga Sector in the Gicumbi District.
“He says he has two wives but in fact he has three”, explains Annonciata Nyiramirimo, Bakesigaki’s second wife.
Then a younger woman, Janet Asiimwe, says: “No way, Dad is lying. He married five wives, one passed away and I am his daughter from the second wife. Our family life has never been good. I hope that my own husband won’t ever get a second wife”.
A crowd of neighbours clap hands seemingly in agreement.

They are not badly arguing nor are they engaging in quarrels. It is rather a constructive community debate that brings together about 200 people in Gicumbi District’s Kaniga Sector close to the Ugandan border.

Held at the sector’s offices this Tuesday afternoon, the debate was one of the regular community events the journalists network PAX PRESS organises countrywide in collaboration with different partners on various issues. Funded by the rights-based program of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), citizens discussed briefly the new law governing family relationship.

The amended Persons and Family Bill passed in August 2016 with the main change being the fact that now both spouses – man and woman – are jointly responsible for the management of the household, including moral and material support as well as its maintenance. “One of the spouses performs those duties alone, if the other spouse is unable to do so. In case of a disagreement, competent authorities take decision,” reads part of article 209.

According to residents and local authorities, polygamous marriages are the root causes for most of the household-based violence in Kaniga Sector. Even though the debate made clear, that young couples live in monogamous relationships and marriages, family problems are still occurring among people aged above 50 years.

The lively debate illustrated, that some men leave their Rwandan wives and marry another woman in Uganda, which is less than a mile away for some of Kaniga residents. In the sector are cases of man who have up to eight wives and numerous children with them. Yet the Constitution of Rwanda recognises only a civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman as a marital union.

Justus Bakesigaki, 61, admits to be married to two wives, but the number of his wives changes between three and up to five as his second wife and one of his daughters raise their voices during the debate. “I rotate between my two wives and feel good with that. I do make time for each of them and don’t see why it should be a problem,” expresses Bakesigaki.

Nyiramirimo, his second wife and mother of two of his children, opposes him saying that the husband has failed to support all of his wives and children. She herself struggles to cater for her children. “I urge monogamous men to avoid getting a second wife. From my experience I also advise women to never accept a married man. He won’t make you happy,” says Nyiramirimo.

Janet Asiimwe, daughter of Bakesigaki, says “My husband is married only to me and I don’t want him to get a second wife. It creates conflicts among wives and hampers family’s prosperity.”

Chantal Tukahirwa, mother of seven, whose husband has left her seven years ago to marry another woman in Uganda, says her conflicts with husband reached a deadlock. “My husband fell in love with a wealthy lady and tried to marry her. He chased me from our matrimonial home when I refused, but I returned a year later after authorities ruled in my favour. That decision angered my husband, so he left with that woman to Uganda”, tells Tukahirwa, who still loves her husband. “Since he is gone, our life is miserable”, she resumes.

Jean Marie Vianney Bangirana, Executive Secretary of Kaniga Sector, says polygamy is decreasing in the community due to government and partners’ sensitisation. “With polygamy come many consequences: A polygamous man will not cater well for the family, children in such families lack education. Above all, there are often conflicts among the wives over the care and resource distribution of the joint husband”, he explains in the gathering.

According to the Executive Secretary, at least 50 households in the sector are known for having conflicts mainly resulting from polygamy and drug abuse. Together with police and army forces, he is fighting against drug abuse and his office offers mediation to solving issues in conflicting families.

On a rainy and clouded Tuesday, residents turned up for Community debate in Kaniga Sector
Polygamous Bakesigaki shares his experience with the gathering during the community debate in Kaniga Sector on Tuesday
Second wife to Bakesigaki, Nyiramirimo cautions ladies against engaging into polygamous marriage. She says she has found nothing good in being in a polygamous relation
Tukahirwa speaks of grief over losing her husband to the second wife for 7 years now. Mother of seven, she is struggling alone to raise the children
Mr Bangirana urges Kaniga residents to avoid polygamous marriages drug abuse and conflicts to focus on their socio-economic development
Residents, young and elders turn up for community debate in Kaniga Sector, Gicumbi District on Tuesday.