Sunday, 23 July 2017

Life as one half of a politically discordant couple; 21.07.17

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What happens when you and your partner are on
What happens when you and your partner are on opposite sides of the political divide? PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 


  • What happens when you and your partner sits on opposite sides of the political divide – and neither wants to shift sides?
  • Simon Mburu talks to a few couples who are living this reality.
67-year-old Rose Akinyi, aka ‘Mama Orange’, has become synonymous with political rallies. You will often see her dancing energetically in an orange T-shirt that is usually matched with huge plastic goggles and straps of oranges on her waist, chest, head, and ankles. Her love for the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is undeniable. However, what many people do not know is the price she has had to pay to play her part in politics. Apparently, when Akinyi, who is popularly known as Mama Orange, was confronted with the choice between marriage and politics, she chose politics over her husband.
In an interview with a local television station, Akinyi says that her husband couldn’t stomach her participation in opposition politics. “There are times I’d go for rallies and stay for over a week. My husband couldn’t accept this. He told me to quit, but I couldn’t. I told him that if he can’t accept and cope with my love for politics, then it was best that he quit our marriage,” she says. Eventually, Akinyi’s husband was unable to tolerate her love for politics and he left her.
Although Akinyi’s case may be considered extreme, spouses who share different political stands during tense political times such as ours are a common, albeit quiet battle many are fighting in their homes.
Things have gotten so bad in Evelyn Koech’s home that she no longer watches evening news with her husband. “All he does is to hurl insults at leaders and supporters of one political side. His phone is full of abusive and politically vulgar memes and clips, which he annoyingly forwards to me. I feel like these insults are directed at me because he knows this is the side I am supporting,” says the 33-year-old. Consequently, Evelyn and her partner have not been intimate nor had any meaningful conversations with each other.
“We have become distant. My marriage is suffering,” says the mother of two. She has now resorted to giving her spouse the silent treatment. “The last thing I want is for my kids to hear or see us fighting over politicians who don’t even know we exist,” she says.
In some cases, the political differences extend to in-laws and potential in-laws. This is what has stalled Peninah Wamaitha’s dowry negotiations.  The 29-year-old fashion designer who runs a wholesale fashion and cosmetics business in Nakuru town says that her father is reluctant to meet her fiancé’s parents due to the political differences between the main communities in Nyanza and Central regions. “My fiancé comes from Luo Nyanza, a zone that is perceived as an opposition stronghold while I come from Nyandarua which is seen as a Jubilee stronghold. When I told my father about it, he dismissed him and his family, saying that they can never see eye to eye due to their different political and cultural perspectives. He says that the two families will never agree on anything if they cannot be on the same page politically,” says Peninah, adding that her father deems accepting dowry from her fiancé as political and communal betrayal. Ironically, her fiancé is a staunch supporter of the same candidate that her father supports.
According to Ken Munyua, a psychologist based in Nairobi, political differences within relationships are bound to get murky especially where spouses are from two tribes considered politically opposed. “Locally, politics is less about ideology and more about tribal affiliation,” he says, adding that parents who might have had stereotypical political inclinations from the past may end up passing their perspectives to their children.
Things might get more complicated where a contesting member of the extended family demands support and allegiance from a spouse who doesn’t approve of their political alignment. This is the situation that Peter Kibiro has found himself in.
The 37-year-old mason says that his brother-in-law has been contesting for the Member of County Assembly position against his high school friend, and has been demanding support in his campaigns. “He’s contesting through a party I do not support. Neither do I think his political vision for the ward has any substantial value compared to his competitor,” he says, adding that the conundrum over who to support has put him at loggerheads with his wife, who thinks he should support family first! According to, Munyua such a scenario may turn into a long-lasting family feud if left unchecked.
In some cases, some partners have taken things to the extreme and plastered calendars and posters of their preferred candidates on the walls of their living rooms. “I had no problem with my husband showing support for his preferred candidates until he pinned posters and calendars in our living area and bedroom,” says Catherine Rufuata, a 38-year-old primary school teacher in Nyahururu. “I was annoyed that he was turning our house into a political hotspot and in a fit of rage, I pulled them down and threw them in the bin.” She says that upon seeing his posters in the bin, her husband flew off the handle. “He pushed me against the wall and nearly battered me,” she says.
According to Leonard Kinuthia, the author of Sex: Principles and Value and executive pastor at the International Church Centre (ICC), extreme political zealousness such as posting campaign paraphernalia might indicate a lack of control in political passions and inclinations. “Campaign materials should be kept from the house and especially out of the bedroom,” he writes, adding that instead, there should be an agreeable level of involvement that a spouse or spouses will have in politics.
A large number of women in relationships prefer to keep their political views secret to avoid political fights in their relationships. This is according to a sample of random views from queries this writer posted on social media on this subject. For instance, Cecilia Adhiambo says that she will outwardly agree with the political stand of her husband even if she finds it shallow. “If he says that I should vote for a certain candidate, I will support him and say he’s the better candidate. After all, he will not accompany me to the ballot box and verify who I voted for,” she says. On the other extreme, Anita Onsongo says that in 2013, she wasn’t able to vote because her partner hid her identity card following a disagreement on which gubernatorial candidate they should vote for.
According to Munyua, many women will take such precautions because of their men’s tendency to dictate which political wing the relationship will support. “There is the tendency by men to attempt to impose their political opinions and candidates on their women,” he says. He nonetheless observes that although it might seem like the easier route, acting out sometimes helps ease political tensions in a relationship.
Some couples who have fought before due to differing political choices have found a way to maintain their relationships in the heat of politics. Take Hadassa Ndanu who was in constant political conflict with her spouse Daniel Kioko in 2013. This political season, she and her husband have found a way to table their opinions without going for each other’s necks. “We realised that our marriage was worthier than any political candidate and decided that if things heat up, we’d either keep politics out of our home or respect each other’s freedom to choose who to support,” she says.

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