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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Kenya split by wedding row
By Kariuki wa Mureithi
BBC News Online

A controversial wedding between a 67-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man is threatening to tear apart a prominent family and is testing the position of Kenya's churches on marriage.

The wedding has also split Kenya's churches
The marriage of politician Wambui Otieno to stonemason Peter Mbugua has generated such heated debate that Kenyans have temporarily forgotten their other pet subject: politics.

The couple took their vows on Friday at the Attorney-General's chambers in Nairobi, with hundreds of curious people turning up to witness the unusual ceremony.

Mr Mbugua's mother, 53-year-old Florence Nyambura, is so angry that she has refused to recognise Wambui as her daughter-in-law.

She is furious that her son decided to marry without seeking her blessing, saying that Mr Mbugua already had a fiancee and planned to marry her next month.

'Love is blind'

Wambui's children also boycotted the ceremony, saying that their mother would live to regret the day she married a "boy" who is 42 years her junior.

They have described the marriage as a disgrace to the family.

But for 67-year-old widow and prominent politician Wambui Otieno, "love is what matters, love is blind."

Marriage is an expression of love and if the couple cannot bear children, they can adopt them
Reverend Timothy Njoya
Presbyterian Church of East Africa

The marriage has not just split the families of the newly-weds: Kenya's churches are also divided on the correct biblical interpretation of the marriage.

A senior Catholic priest, Father Emanuel Ngugi termed the marriage as "uncouth", saying that Wambui should have consulted her Gikuyu community before marrying a man who is her grandchild's age.

He also suggested that the community might treat Mr Mbugua as an outcast.

But a Presbyterian Church of East Africa clergyman, Reverend Timothy Njoya, said the marriage is biblically right.

"Marriage is an expression of love and if the couple cannot bear children, they can adopt them," he says.

Kenyan feminists have also joined the fray, saying that love does not recognise age barriers.

"Marrying a woman much older than you is no big deal. It has been happening, is happening and will continue to happen," says prominent anti-rape activist, Fatma Anyanzwa.

Controversial life

Wambui Otieno, sister to Kenya's former foreign Minister, Dr Munyua Waiyaki, is no stranger to controversy.

In her autobiography Mau Mau Daughter: A Life History, she says she had three children while a Mau Mau freedom fighter.

She was detained by the British colonial administration in 1961 for being a member of the Mau Mau movement fighting to free Kenya from colonial rule.

A few years after her release she married a lawyer, Silvanus Otieno, after initial objections from her parents.

In 1987, Wambui and her children were involved in a long-drawn legal tussle with members of her late husband's clan over his burial place.

When the High Court ruled that the body of Mr Otieno should be buried in his ancestral western Kenya home, Wambui and her children boycotted the burial ceremony.

Children disinherited

This latest controversy regarding her marriage to 25-year-old Peter Mbugua is bound to raise questions over the late Otieno's estate.

She says that she is including her young husband in her will after disinheriting her children, whom she accuses of neglecting her.

And this is probably why some people are accusing Mr Mbugua of dishonesty, claiming that his decision may have been "economically motivated".

Mr Mbugua denies these claims, saying that he sincerely loves the woman who is 42 years his senior and 14 years older than his mother.

But as the debate over the marriage rumbles on, Kenyans will continue to forget one crucial question: would a marriage between an 67-year-old man and a 25-year-old-girl have caused such a furore?

Below is a selection of the comments received on the subject.

I think some applaud Wambui from a distance but wish and pray that they will never live to see a day when their mothers break the news to them that they are marrying the 25-year-old milk man. To use the very lexicon of the Wambui Otieno court debacle, the whole thing is repugnant!
Francis N, USA

I reckon that everybody has the right to choose. However this issue reveals deep seated problems whereby women of age are unlikely to meet their male peers since these males have anyway gone ahead and married very young girls. Even where young couples marry there is always a motivation of sorts...be it financial or otherwise. As long as it is a WIN WIN situation what the heck is it to anybody else. Alot of old flabby white women in Mombasa 'marry' very young boys and the money they send their parents is received with blessings. Now that it is a black woman that is a problem. As for the men, stories abound.
Awinja Wameyo, Tunisia

I support the union of the two. It is absurd to see even families not respecting a decision of two adults. Wambui is one woman who is a realist of life. This is just a new trend and people will get over it.
Githii wa Mwathi, Kenyan in the USA

Who said we live in a perfect world? Human beings are never satisfied and however much one tries to please people or a society they will always find something to criticise. There are as many older women engaged in sexual relationships with younger men as there are younger men engaged in the same practice with older women but all is done discreetly for fear of condemnation and heckling from the public, a price Wamboi and Mbugua are dearly paying. They made a choice and we should let them take charge of it. After all, everybody should be polishing their own relationships before polishing others.
K. Anuri, MD, USA

After initially dropping our dentures in hypocritical outrage, we will eventually accept that this runaway love train passed us zamani jamani (a long time ago), while we were busy playing peace keeping. Bravo Wambui Otieno.............a true lioness.
Margaret S. Maringa, US

Since marriage is about no one but the 2 people involved, I don't see what business this is of anyone else. The brides children are obviously grown-up, so they have no business interfering. Surely this is more about people not understanding how a young man could possibly find an older woman physically attractive? As has been said by others, if an older man can marry a younger woman, why not the other way around? Marriage is about more than just physical attraction.
Stephanie Taylor, UK

The age gap is too wide and I do not understand why some people think its okay for the young Mbugua, who happens to be 42 years Wambui's junior, to 'marry' her. This is madness! That close relatives on both sides, including Wambui's own children, are so vehemntly opposed to the 'marriage' tells it all and I hope Mbugua opens his eyes wide enough and be a bit realistic. Whatever so much distorted his perception of life requires prayers and fasting!
Odhiambo George, Kenyan in South Africa

I don not see any problem getting married to an elderly woman because in Africa, and in Cameroon my country in particular, men in their 80's marry younger girls aged 8 or under. So let Mr MAN go ahead with his GRAND WIFE, or let us say, GRAND MOTHER
Funsah James, Yaounde /Cameroon

Being originally from Zimbabwe I dated a lady who was 11 years older than me. My friends, co-workers and everyone who had no business comments kept asking why I was dating an "off layer" (nicknamed after old hens that can't lay eggs anymore). Needless to say because of my tender age of 23 at the time and despite the love I had for her, I broke it off. Now I live in the USA, I'm 28 and up until last year I was dating a woman who is currently 46. No one cared, commented or discouraged us as long as we were happy. I think firstly as Africans and as a people we need to breakout of our prisons of traditionalism and move on with the times. Secondly the word privacy doesn't exist to us at all. Why are we so concerned with why and what someone is doing - if he is marrying for love, lust, money or a mere fantasy - THATS HIS BUSINESS.
Baba veBoyz, USA

salute the woman. She has shown her love and the man is mature enough and loves her! Can you compare this with men sleeping with six months old babies? Come on people! CONGRATULATIONS NEW COUPLE!
Anne Mwansa, Zambia

Even though love is blind, let us also not forget about our African culture. Its not common in Africa for a young boy to get married to an older woman. Like somebody has already said, the boy is really a "gold digger".
Khataza Nhlane , Malawi

Wambui is just confirming her controversial way of doing things. She is already saying that she will disinherit her children for neglecting her and include his young husband Mbugua in her will to inherit his property. Wambui is able to play with fire and come out without burns! That is her! She has already said her love is blind, who are you to say otherwise!
Harrahs Malinda, German

I think there is nothing wrong with the marrage. I am saying this because I am 27 years old and I would not mind marrying a 67- year- old guy if I fell in love with him. If I dont mind a s a woman, I don not see why a man 27 years old would not fall in love with me 40 years later. I believe, Only my skin will get older but my real personallity will become smarter and smarter as I grow older. I want every one to know that I am saying this as an EQUAL to men.
Bethelihem Hagos, Ethiopia

The man is a "gold digger". His decision is economically motivated, no more no less.
Abiodun G., Germany

No one will question the marriage of a 67-year-old man to a 25-year-old woman
Keta, Sao Tome

It is said that love is blind. In this case it is blind to age and any other prejudices such as other people's negative opinion of it. I wish Mr and Mrs Mbugua the best in their new life.
Kuria Githiora, Kenyan in USA

I fail to understand why people are making noise. What Wambui has done is commendable. I have seen that happening else where. It now sounds odd for some, especially women. But why haven't the same people come out to oppose old the men marrying off young girls. One should visit some of our leading tourist hot spots in the Kenyan coastal region and see what the hell is going on. It is no open secret that young Kenyans of either sex are marrying white old tourists all in the name of getting riches and yet no person has come out to condemn this practice. Many parents are known to bless such arranged marriages. For Wambui coming out and making it official, it should now go down to all Kenyans that everything is possible and acceptable as long as it does not infringe on other people's rights. Pili pili usiyoila yakuwashia nini. (Why poke your nose into matters that do not concern you?)
Isaboke Omurwa, Germany

In Swahili we have a saying that goes: Mkuki kwa nguruwe kwa binadamu uchungu (A spear is for a pig but for a human being it is painful). So, what's the big deal? Why it is that people say nothing when a 75-year-old man marries a 19-year-old school girl?
Jidura Jr, Tanzania

This occurrence can only be perceived as total outrage!! The marriage is obviously not love-based and can just be part of a complex plot, knowing the woman's past character!!
Francis Oloo, Kenya

No one cries foul when old men marry far much younger girls. One's own home is determined by those who live in it. Now I think this newly married couple should be left to live. It is upon them to prove us wrong or right. If death does them part, then they will have won. I think an objective judgement should come in years to come, after stealing a vista of what they will have gone through.
Weru Macharia, Kenya/France

There is nothing wrong with this marriage. Why do men of 70s marry primary school kids of 15 and cause no furore?
Chatari Victor, Kenya

I don't see the problem. Africa is full of old men who marry girls who are their great-grand children's' age group. So why the double standards? Let the woman be. Marriage is already tough enough these days without public trials and jury! Let's not forget, both husband and wife are consenting adults.
Farida Mohammed, Tanzania

Country profile: Kenya
17 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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