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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 18:49 GMT
Are African men entitled to multiple wives?
Liberian President Charles Taylor has said that he is entitled to as many as four wives because he is a traditional leader in touch with his culture.

Discussing his private life amid rumours that he has taken a new wife or is about to do so, he told those gathered at a news conference that it was his wife Jewel Howard's responsibility to "fish for a woman and bring her over to him".

Some Liberian women have reacted angrily, claiming that encouraging a man to have more than one wife is bound to lead to marital strife and discord within the family.

However in some countries and in the teachings of certain religions, polygamy is the norm.

Should a man be allowed to have more than one wife? Should leaders be advocating such behaviour?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

No educated woman in her right mind would want to be a part of any polygamy situation. Is this why some African men don't want African women to be educated? This polygamy thing is not about love, it's about status and sexual hunger, which people seem to think that women don't have. If a man is capable of loving four women at one go, then should it be any different for women to love six men?
Namasiku, Mongu, Zambia

We Africans have our traditions

Jerry Matthews, Liberia/US
I may not like the policies of Charles Taylor, but marriage to a single woman is from the West. Let us not let these people dictate our way of life, we Africans have our traditions.
Jerry Matthews, Liberia/US

What if a woman had up to 4 husbands? Would this be thought of the same way? And if not, why not?
Anthony B, UK

As far as I am concerned there is nothing wrong in having many wives, because what matters most is the care for all of them. I take my own personal example, I was born through a father who married as many as 13 wives and of which my mother is the 7th and today although my dad is late we as children are all very happy together.
Matthew Joseph, Benin Republic

Traditions do not have to go on forever

No, only one wife. Things can change, traditions do not have to go on forever. In the old days, when a lot of men were killed in tribe wars etc it could be practical that all women could "get married" to the few men that had survived. They could have children and could be supported despite the lack of men.

No a man should not be allowed to have more than one wife. Our country Liberia was founded on Christian principles and should follow the one man one woman rule like in the Bible.
Victoria Sieh, Liberia

Someone needs to ask Mr. Taylor & all the other men who support polygamy whether they would say okay to their wives if they said they wanted a second or third husband. Polygamy is all about the male ego and nothing else.
Ayana, Cameroon/ USA

One male for one female is a very unnatural thing for all animals. While the sexual desire of female is seasonal, males wants to have it all the time. Let me ask those who are anti-polygamy practice: Why are we surrounded by many brothels and millions of prostitutes in all the cities of the world? Who are the customers of this places? Please don't try to be what you are not. I think it is better to have more than one wife than searching in the dark to satisfy one's sexual desire.
Bedellu, Australia

I am a third son of an African chief with six wives

Deng Manydhalpiu, Sudanese/Australia
I am a third son of an African chief with six wives, there are many other children in the family, yet we have never had any quarrel or grudge amongst ourselves. Therefore president Taylor is obliged to marry as many wives as he could, so long as he doesn't impose it on anyone. As he rightly pointed it out, the only person to object against his decision is his wife Jewel, whom he can sort things out with in their own house. Sincerely declared polygamy is much more better than the one undercover and by declaring his stand, the Taylor is therefore a very honest man.
Deng Manydhalpiu, Sudanese/Australia

My father was a polygamist and my mother, my siblings and I suffered the consequences of this. Polygamy is purely to satisfy male selfishness and I know of no woman who actually wants to share her husband. All those men who claim polygamy as a necessity are just boasting of their sex drive, probably because they lack anything better to be proud of. Polygamy continues poverty, underdevelopment and disrespect for women and it is in no way a cure for infidelity for polygamous men too have women on the side.
Sylvie, Cameroon/Finland

The issue of polygamy is one of discrimination, social inequality and injustice done to women. Nobody gave men any cultural right to marry more than one woman. Men, out of selfishness and wanting to satisfy their basal appetite, arrogated to themselves the right to have access to as many women as possible. In those days when men used brutal force to dominate and suppress women, the latter were afraid to oppose such humiliation done to them. Otherwise, which woman in her right senses will allow another woman to share the same man with her, let alone going out of her way to bring a woman to her husband? President Charles Taylor, I'm afraid, is still living in the dark ages and needs to be brought home.
Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako, United Kingdom

It should definitely be a cultural right of men to have more than one spouse.

Michael, USA
I have two wives and I feel that it should definitely be a cultural right of men to have more than one spouse. Polygamy is an ancient and time-honoured form of marriage that has proven to be a stable and desirable lifestyle for many over the centuries. Let us accept and learn from other peoples more ancient than ourselves with open minds and hearts so that we can build a bridge of understanding and tolerance towards other cultures and thus benefit from the richness and diversity of their human experience.
Michael, USA

I am generally in support of people being able to follow their own culture. However, what happens when a man with more than one wife emigrates to a country where bigamy is illegal? What is the legal status of the various marriages and the children from those marriages? The implications are enormous.
Colin, England

I am rather embarrassed to hear that the President of a Country is canvassing to marry other wives. It is a total let down to the African race. What kind of examples are we setting for our generation? If he is unable to run his little household, how on earth is he going to run a whole country? Charity begins at home they say. Little wonder Liberia has been in disharmony and shambles for years!
Frances Bruce, Nigeria

West African men should understand that women are a vital part of our continent development

Virja Bottom, Canada
How ridiculous! This is a disgrace!! West African men should understand that women are a vital part of our continent development, and start treating them with respect. Women produce more than 70 % of our agricultural output on the top of carrying out other tasks and households duties. Where are their men in the meantime? Enough with those stupid, barbaric behaviours that are carried in the name of "tradition". By the way, traditions also can change and adapt to new values. A head of state with four wives? When is he going to have time to do what he expected to be doing?
Virja Bottom, Canada

I dumbfounded when a leader sets such a bad example for his country to follow! Here we are in Africa shouting over population all the time because our limited resources can not simple support our numbers, yet we also say "marry more", "breed more". Polygamous marriages in an ever complex world is a dividing factor in our societies. Jealousy and envy cause the offspring a lot of headaches and there are always fences to mend. We hope no other leader ventures into it!
Abaneh Issah Fuseini, Tamale,Ghana

As Africans, we should not let the encroachment of western culture destroy our own conventional family life. Polygamy had been a long standing tradition, and should not be seen as an evil practice. If it is not obligatory on anyone to marry more than one wife, then there shouldn't be much fuss about it. If Mr. Taylor's marrying a second wife is consented to by his present wife, then it is their life and should not even be a subject of discussion for anyone else.
Sheriff, Tyler,Texas

I come from an a religious & ethnic background where people largely practices polygamy. However, my maternal grand father as well as my dad had one wife each. I and my brothers have decided that we will only marry one wife each because polygamy is not acceptable socially, economically and morally. My wife is from a polygamous home but she refused to marry many suitors because she can't stand polygamy. In the UK it is illegal and I think it should be legislated against in Africa.
Sarli Sardou Nana, UK

Polygamy in Africa was born out of necessity, not for reasons of status.

Marianne, Canada
Polygamy in Africa was born out of necessity, not male sexual prowess or for reasons of status. Where humans have lived close to nature and without modern medicine, particularly in tropical regions, the survival rate for girl children under six is higher than for boy children under six. The reason for this is that boys have a longer intestinal tract and are therefore more susceptible to intestinal infections causing diahorrea, causing dehydration leading to death. Also, boys and men traditionally took on more hazardous roles, leading to casualties. This led to a ratio of 1 man to 3 women on average, a pattern that can still be found in many remote African regions. Polygamy was therefore originally and in some areas still is far more of a responsibility for men than a privilege. Only in more "recent" times have men exploited this tradition.
Marianne, Canada

To Charles Taylor and everyone else who supports polygamy in the name of "tradition", I ask, do you also support the inter-tribal slave trade, or ritualistic killings for human sacrifice? These traditional practices, as well as polygamy, have been rejected by all progressive-minded Africans, including the majority of Liberians. Taylor is no role model for anyone!
Lloyd Nagbe, Liberian/USA

I don't see any reason why African men should be entitled to more than one wife. This practice does not only trigger enmity between the wives but it also brings grudges between the kids. I don't care how fair they try to be, they are always gonna love one wife more than the other or love kids from a certain mother over the other. Secondly it degrades women. Men are suppose to love their wives with all their heart.
Ruby, Sierra Leonean living in USA

Polygamy protects the dignity of women through marriage rights.

Hafidh M. Al-Kindy, Oman
Polygamy is as old as human history. What is better, to have four legal wives or to have one legal wife and several mistresses? Polygamy is an institution which protects the dignity of women through marriage rights.
Hafidh M. Al-Kindy, Oman

Life is not one size fits all. Polygamy is good for some people and it is not right for some. All the great prophets in the Bible are polygamists except for Jesus who did not marry at all. I hope the hypocrites will let go Taylor's private life and hold him accountable on the job he is doing as the leader of Liberia.
Lateef Sowemimo, Chicago USA

I don't believe there is any man that can financially support the dreams of the wife he has, let alone more than one wife. If one desires more than one wife, he probably has not found the match God has for him to be fully fulfilled. However, what Mr. Taylor does, as long as it is legal, not bringing harm or infringing on human rights, and acceptable to his voters, should be his business. If the majority of voters determine it is OK, that is their burden to live with, and their business.
bill, usa

It has nothing to do with culture but all to do with his libido.

Nuesiri Emmanuel, Cambridge
I suggest BBC online should ask non-African men to vote if they are content with monogamy. The answer would probably be an overwhelming no! Taylor's comments should be seen for what it is, a personal desire to fulfil an emotional need. It has nothing to do with culture but all to do with his libido. So please refrain from using Taylor's antics to disparage African culture.
Nuesiri Emmanuel, Cambridge, UK

Greed is the genesis of all problems human beings face on this planet earth. Having one wife should be the rule without exceptions. African men must be able to move from old traditional beliefs and learn to stay faithful to their wives. Having two or more wives means having to feed some extra mouths and it is for this reason Charles Taylor will want to stay in power - to feed his wives and children with state money.
Agborbesong A. Tiku, Cameroon

I am appalled by Charles Taylor wanting to have four wives. As a Head of State, he should concentrate on solving poverty and economic problems in Liberia instead of wasting his energy on hunting for women. I wonder if he would be satisfied after four wives. Who knows, he may one day find a trivial excuse to marry "thousand" women. Just the thought of it gives me the creeps. God save us, this is revolting!
Cecilia Agyeman-Anane, Ghana/Italy

Its a shame that African men can condemn slavery by Europeans but feel at ease to enslave their fellow African women in the name of tradition. If we don't take care of one wife how are we going to take care of more than one? Taylor's statement is absurd.
Cillaty Daboh, USA/Sierra Leone

Four is fine but there should be no limitations.

Bozzenjune, Liberia / USA
I totally agree with the statement of President Taylor. As an African man living is the United States, I am sometimes puzzled by the sadness and look of frustration on the faces of women. I sit and ask myself, why? The solution, a man who has the god given blessings to satisfy women should not be restrained from going out and offering his services. Yes, a man should have more than one wife. Four is fine but there should be no limitations. Women need to understand and allow their man to be free. If you are the wife, you are already number one. All other women will understand and have to respect your position. This is the tradition African way and I am sure that the western women will love this tradition. Here is the US, real men are hard to find. So, for the few of us that have not been blinded by this foolishness, the time is now to set out and do what a man was created to do. Love all women.
Bozzenjune, Liberia / USA

Polygamy is better than cheating on one's wife, but the two situations degrade women because they make them feel that they are not at all special. In addition, I believe there are aspects of African culture that are not right and in a modern world, I think polygamy creates social and economic problems.
Christine, Kenyan living in Austria

A health minister here once described men as serial monogamists: One wife at a time, many times. For some men, monogamy or polygamy, the bottom line is the same. That said, it is important for individuals to realize the possibility of contracting and transmitting HIV. And for a lighter world, polygamy is not profitable. One man, one wife. Then open up a vibrant sex industry.
Owen, Zimbabwe

It's about time women step up and challenged these traditional and religious ideas.

Abe, USA
I wonder what will happen if a women wanted more than one husband? As much as men would love to have more than one wife they will not tolerate a woman having more than one husband. I absolutely believe we still live in a male chauvinist world. It's OK for a man but not a woman. It's about time women step up and challenged these traditional and religious ideas.
Abe, USA

Charles Taylor is a mad man using a once important tradition to justify his perverted and corrupt nature. Although polygamy had its place in the traditional African society, just like it did in ancient Europe and Asia, it is now obsolete especially considering how both sexes are evenly matched in their demographics.
George Mutua, Kenya

No offence to the those believing in multiple marriages, but polygamy is as bad and immoral as polyandry. It is borne out men's lust and their economic domination over women. If women were economically stronger than men, we would have cases of polyandry. Since Liberia's President Taylor has chosen polygamy, he should think of letting his wife choose her second husband too! I am ready and willing to offer myself as her second man!
Jones Fahari, Tanzania

Is this issue to do with rights? It is a fact that many African men do not marry for love but for status within the community the "love marriage" is considered by many to be idealistic and Western notion contrary to the attitudes and customs which prevail
Nnn.Saunders, England

A man should have just one wife and love her with all his strength.

Junior Bismarck, Liberia
It's very wrong for a leader to advocate for such practice. Above all, owning to the fact that he's a devoted Christian. Our Christian religion does not allow polygamy. A man should have just one wife and love her with all his strength.
Junior Bismarck, Liberia

In your introduction, you claim that "in the teachings of certain religions, polygamy is the norm". It's obvious that you are taking a swipe - in an ignorant, BBC-bigotry way - at Islam. Well, you are wrong. Polygamy is permissible, but as an exception and not as a rule. And where it is common, as in some west African countries, it is reflection of cultural rather than spiritual realities. I am not sure that polygamy is a factor for the spread of HIV/AIDS. Just look at the pattern of AIDS prevalence in Africa and Asia and you will see that the worst affected areas are communities and countries where polygamy is illegal.
Eddy Simba, Tanzania

I would say that it's fine as long as the women involved know what they are getting involved in, and they have a choice in the matter. I would say however, that with the AID epidemic running rampant in Africa, it would probably be in everyone's best interest if Africans would find one partner, and remain monogamous.
Joe, USA

I am proud of President Charles Taylor for that great statement

Physue S. Kromah, Liberian/ USA
I think it is a good idea to live by your tradition and be proud of it. I am a Mandingoe - we love to marry up to four women, maximum. This is better than having four to five or more concubines or girlfriends around the city. If we, the Africans, decide to live to by our traditions we will not have any problems at all. Before, our Grandfather married up four women and there was nothing like HIV, but why? Getting one wife is difficult to satisfy a good Man that is sexually great. If you think one woman is good or sufficient for you then don't have no other dating partners on the side, which is responsible for HIV Aids. I am proud of President Charles Taylor for that great statement and please continue to be yourself and be proud of your tradition Mr President.
Physue S. Kromah, Liberian/ USA

You have to look back at the original purpose of having more than one wife. More children, more to help survive etc. I don't think they are having that kind of a problem there anymore. I think it's irresponsible and selfish of Charles Taylor to set that example.
Meredith, USA

Many leaders in the West also practice polygamy. Prince Charles and Bill Clinton to name a few - although they give it a different name.
James, UK

I resent African leaders doing whatever pleases them and excusing it as African culture

Amoroso Gombe, Kenya
I resent African leaders doing whatever pleases them and excusing it as African culture. Africa is a continent with tens of thousands of cultures much more diverse than Europe or America for example. In Utah polygamy is legal and they're not African. In Europe and elsewhere, people simply cheat on their partners at any rate, so one wonders if polygamy is less hypocritical. If it's legal for men to marry more than one wife in his country then I'm okay with it as long as it's legal for women to do the same (polyandry I believe it's called).
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya

People should learn to live with the times. Monogamy is the order of the day and with the advent of economic and health impediments there should be no question of multiple partners. The issue of African tribal chiefs is an entirely different question, as they belong to a special class of their own.
Gideon Mfolem, Yaounde, Cameroon

It should not be encouraged in any society because it subjects innocent children to hardships

P Alphonso Bargblor, Liberia/USA
I am a grandson of a Paramount Chief, who was married to many women including my grandmother. My father was no different from his dad; he too had more than one wife including my mother. Some advocate polygamy, but it should not be encouraged in any society because it subjects innocent children to hardships. I am speaking from experience and as a product of such a family. Mothers most of the time have to fend for their children if the man has more than one wife. We as human beings cannot love two persons equally. It is a shame for the civilised communities that a leader would advocate such a thing.
P Alphonso Bargblor, Liberia/USA

I would say it's okay as long as women have the same rights. However, it should be subject to modern divorce and child protection laws. No matter what, your culture, children and spouses should be protected.
Michael, Los Angeles, USA

It's views like these that can perpetuate dysfunctional families and escalate the spread of Aids. ABBA sang the real message in the words of their song, One Man, One Woman. Leaders know better than that.
Akaps, Canada

Are African men entitled to multiple wives?



1220 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

21 Oct 02 | Africa
14 Sep 02 | Africa
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