It was disbelief, consternation and shock as controversial 67-year-old political activist, Virginia Edith Wambui Waiyaki Otieno married mason Peter Mbugua, 39 years her junior, in a civil ceremony at the Attorney General’s Chambers in Nairobi on July 18. Unusual, the marriage, which has taken on the dimension of a local soap opera, has split families, spawned a raging debate, and left the bridegroom’s mother dead, probably out of shock and a broken heart, OGOVA ONDEGO argues.
Just as it was in August 1963 when she wedded Silvanus Melea ‘SM’ Otieno during a period when the perennial Kikuyu and Luo rivals had the closest alliance, her remarriage to Mbugua 40 years later was a controversial but symbolic marriage. Both marriages appear an affront to convention. As if aware of the social incorrectness and the anger her action had generated, Mrs Otieno-Mbugua tried to justify her comedic act: “I looked for an older man, a widower, but couldn’t find one since I am very famous. Then Mbugua came along.” The smiling Mbugua chimed in that since he had met Wambui they had become fast friends despite disparaging remarks that she is older than he. He dismissed the observation as “utter nonsense.”
Mbugua is said to have first repaired Wambui’s car and then her house before moving in as a domestic worker who cooked, washed clothes and cared for Wambui and the house. Saying Mbugua had been her fiance for a year, Otieno urged women to liberate themselves from the notion that they cannot marry men younger than they. But vocal political activist Orie Rogo Manduli condemned her action referring to it as “mid-winter madness” that pulls womanhood into the mire. She said the women’s struggle is about dignity, equal opportunity, a wider and level playing field, not equaling the decadence and Wambui Otieno and Peter Mbugua hold hands as a demonstration of their anticipated marital bliss behavioural deficiencies of some of our men.”Her observation appeared to agree with the long held anti-feminist view that instead of liberating themselves, women are adopting the worst qualities in men.
Maseno South Anglican Church Bishop Francis Mwayi Abiero referred to her marriage as “legal public adultery” and a mockery to the institution of the family. None of her nine children-all grown up– attended the unusual wedding. Wambui was to later go ballistic on them. Rather reluctant at first to field questions from the Press, Wambui Otieno, a widow of 18 years, said, “There are many young women who get married to older men. What is wrong when an older woman gets married to a younger man?” She accused society of double standards saying that Vice-President Michael Wamalwa’s recent marriage to a woman almost half his age had not caused as much controversy as her marriage. Wamalwa is 63 while Yvonne Nambia is 35. But they started living together when Nambia was 29.
Unlike many elderly “women who have secret affairs with young men while they are married,” she argued, she was being honest by marrying Mbugua. She argued that many prominent women are having affairs with men below the age of 18 years and that her ‘boy’ was 28. Mrs Otieno-Mbugua’s sentiments would have been dismissed were it not for the fact that she comes from Upper Matasia on the outskirts of Nairobi, an area that is infamous for unconventional relationships between elderly women and ‘boys’. Parents of young sons are apprehensive in this part of the country where middle-aged wealthy women are hooking their children to what former US President Bill Clinton would refer to as ‘inappropriate relationships’. Cases of propertied older women ‘abusing’ young, inexperienced and unemployed men in Matasia, Ngong, Ongata Rongai, and Kitengela areas of Kajiado District are soaring.
Most of the women indulging in this vice are either widows, women who have separated with their husbands or those who have never married. Others are wives who are simply being mischievous. Some women pretend to be employing young men before they transform them into gigolos. Thus viewed from this wider context, Virginia Wambui Otieno and Peter Mbugua’s case is normal. The late Florence Nyambura, the 53-year-old mother of Mbugua had said her son had introduced Otieno to her as an employer and not a lover. Literally mourning the ‘death’ of her son and appealing to the government to nullify what she termed a ‘fraudulent’ marriage, Nyambura said Mbugua had married Otieno for her wealth. Nyambura has since died of what is believed to be a broken heart after her son ‘betrayed’ her. What do behavioural experts make of Otieno-Mbugua’s ‘mid-winter madness’ and “legal public adultery”? Lawyer Henry Kurauka says the Marriage Act recognises Wambui and Mbugua as being legally married as they are ‘consenting adults.’ “The noise we are hearing is based on morality and customs that have little substance in law,” says Kurauka. But what about the issue of senility-can her marriage be annulled based on it?
Kurauka thinks so. “The law is tenable only if those marrying are of ‘sound mind’,” he says but adds that it is difficult to prove Mrs Otieno was not of sound mind at the time she decided to marry Mbugua. Dismissing opposition to the marriage, psychiatrist Owiti says “Kenyans look at marriage only in terms of sex. This is wrong as companionship is more important than sexual intimacy.” He adds that any one thinking that a post-menopausal woman is incapable of performing sexually is wrong.
“Unlike men whose sexual performance tapers off at 40, that of women rises only that they can’t conceive,” he says. “Wambui may look tired but she could be a dynamo in the bedroom.” Dr Owiti nevertheless says Otieno-Mbugua could be suffering from what he terms “early dementia.” Dr Owiti speculates “money could have attracted Mbugua to Wambui.” Clinical psychologist Emmy Gichinga of GEM Counselling Centre notes there is everything wrong with the marriage of Wambui and Mbugua if taken in the proper social, cultural and religious contexts. “There are more factors to consider in African marriages than the mere ‘consenting adults’ notion being bandied about.”
Gichinga notes Mbugua and Wambui cannot be considered ‘companions’ due to the huge gap in their age. “Compared to Wambui, Mbugua is intellectually, economically and socially challenged. How can they be companions?” she poses. “As women mature earlier than men emotionally and physically, the situation is almost grave when the age margin is as wide as in the case of Wambui and Mbugua in which the former is in her third,” she observes. ” The needs of a young adult like Mbugua are different from those of the elderly Wambui. While Mbugua may be more concerned about enjoying life, Wambui’s concerns revolve around her health.” Saying an age gape of even 10 years is a problem in marriage, Gichinga reiterates young people like Mbugua are still trying to discover themselves through experiments while older people want to settle down. “In Africa men are socialised to lead while women follow. This is the same in the Christian context. So far Wambui appears to be the leader while Mbugua merely follows,” she says. She however speculates that the relationship could work out in the context of Mbugua who comes from a single parent family in which the mother was the predominant figure. “In marrying Wambui he may have been looking for another mother figure in his life.”
Saying Wambui may have married Mbugua out of need to be cared for and also to avoid being buried in Nyalgunga, Gichinga says,”I don’t agree with heron the way she is fighting her war.” She says she is fighting to liberate women, Gichinga says, “This is not the way to do it. There are certain God-ordained roles that we can’t reverse. Marriage, one of them, is a sacred institution and not something you go into to prove a point. Marriage already has enough challenges of its own without bringing in cultural, intellectual, economic, and psychological differences. Wambui is taking her gender liberation too far.” Mrs Gichinga, however, applauds Otieno-Mbugua for her honesty in marrying instead of ‘running around with young fellows as some older women do.’ She says it is not good for older people-whether they be men or women–to marry extremely younger people as that negates the much sought after ‘companionship’. No matter what experts say, women in Nairobi and its surroundings appear set on their chosen lifestyle.
When Stephen Kariuki, a 15 year old boy, got a ‘job’ as a domestic worker, his poor parents were overjoyed. Though they received money from him at the end of every month, they got concerned when he failed to come home for almost two years. “When it transpired that Kariuki’s job was to ‘service’ his employer,” his mother says, “we went for him and took him away forcefully.” Kariuki simply laughs off the whole affair. We were also told of a 20-year-old man who was employed as a ‘houseboy’ in Bulbul before his 53-year-old employer transformed him into a ‘driver’, ‘companion’, and then ‘lover’. Women who ’employ’ young men usually do not want them to attach any strings to the relationship as they should remain mere ’employees’
Some men, however, are getting cunning and refusing to be sexually exploited, demanding that they formalise such relationships and become ‘masters’ over these women. Could Otieno and Mbugua’s relationship be viewed in this context? Mary Wanjiku Muchiri, 55, says she had employed a young man (names withheld) as a farmhand but that he had used witchcraft to manipulate her into becoming his ‘wife’ in an attempt to grab her pieces of land. “That is when I realised I stood to lose if I continued to live with him,” she says. “I found myself going to the bank, withdrawing a substantial amount of money and then giving it to him.” But people who knew them discount her account saying she is the one who went after the young man from his brother’s house in Lower Matasia shopping centre.
Her relatives say she lived with ‘her boy’ in Matasia and not Ngong and that she took him to at least three denominational pastors to be married. The leaders, though, refused to solemnise the relationship because she was ‘too old’ for him. When her relatives, children and church turned against her for involving herself with the young man, she says, she hated them. It is only later that she came to realise that the young man, whom she refers to as a ‘devil worshipper’, was using witchcraft to alienate her from her loved ones. “I want to caution other single mothers to be careful how they deal with male domestic workers since I would hate to see them going through a similar predicament like mine,” she says. But observers say Wanjiku’s are bull and cock stories; sour grapes she has invented to diminish the shame of what she–an old woman–has heaped upon herself for running around with a boy young enough to be her grandchild.
A young man who does not wish to be named said Matasia is the leading place for women taking young men as lovers. “They employ you as a domestic worker, show you everything in the house including themselves and then say you should not ask for any payment as they themselves belong to you. This has happened to me twice and I am no longer looking for a job.” He says some women rent houses for their workers in other places if they are well known in Matasia and then visit them for sex at their own convenience. John, who has been given a car and is living with a woman old enough to be his grandmother, argues, “Here you are, unemployed and without a penny. Then a woman comes your way with offers of a car, money and herself, would you take the offer or not?”
Women who go for younger men, he says, usually want people who will always be there for them whenever they need them; men they can manipulate. Another young man who lived with an older woman for three years says he was in a bar when the woman asked him if he could teach her how to play pool. They were at the pool table for an entire evening with the woman supplying him with beer and nyama choma. They retired to the woman’s home and their relationship began. “Most young men in Ngong are no longer ashamed to go out with elderly women as long as they are provided with material things,” he says, adding that young men have no time for girls of their own age as they are jobless and penniless while the girls would prefer someone who is economically independent-usually elderly men– to support them.
“Propertied elderly women have noted this and that is why they are going after us. Even married women whose husbands are too busy for them are going after us. You would be foolish to refuse a car, a house and money from a woman just because someone says it is wrong. It may be wrong for them but not for us. If it were us who were going for these women, it would be considered wrong.” Sources say many young men are staying footloose waiting for women to go after them so they may enrich themselves. “My brother was hooked by a woman who had hired him as a shamba man. One day he sold her car and lied it had been wrenched from him at gunpoint. He used the money to build himself a permanent house and has since left the woman,” a woman in Kiserian confides. Saying that cases of young men pretending to be looking for jobs while their eyes are on the property of single women are on the increase, Wanjiku claims a woman was recently dispossessed of her property in Ongata Rongai when she was deceived into marrying the young man who had been her domestic worker-cum-lover.
The man, who is said to have used charms to put Wanjiku in his clutches, dismisses the “worker-cum-lover” story as a lie. He says he was never an employee of the woman but that they were actually husband and wife. “It is true I met Wanjiku in Ngong while I was working at Memusi Academy and we agreed to live together while awaiting to formalise our marriage,” he says. “I took Wanjiku to my home in Siaya where she met my parents and other relatives and she agreed that she was my wife. We even have a document signed to that effect and the chief of my location is a witness.” Wanjiku says the document he is referring to was signed under duress because she wanted to get back the title deed and plot certificates he had run away with. However the man says the document was prepared to pave way for a formal wedding.
“When pastors of Deliverance and Roman Catholic churches disregarded the letter and refused to join us in holy matrimony arguing that she was too old for me,” he says, “I introduced her to the Jehovah’s Witness congregation to which I belong.” A Jehovah’s Witness family with whom the couple studied the Bible confirm the duo lived as husband and wife and were often introduced in public as such. Although Wanjiku said Roman Catholic priests in Kiserian and Ngong were willing to marry them on condition that the young man lays no stake to her property as they suspected he was a fortune hunter, the said clergy declined to be drawn into the controversy.