Wambui Otieno , an outstanding mistress of controversy ( Kenya has many mistresses of controversy) has passed away after a long illness.

Her figure is embedded in the books of history and law as her marriages created legal discourse in the region and Africa as a whole. The question one should ask however, has her symbolic significance revealed the social-moral conflicts that rock   African today?

To the left ,The Late husband of Wambui Otieno(now deceased ) SM Otieno and Wambui Otieno to the right

For one to find the answer to that question, one has to look at the married life of Wambui Otieno.


This marriage was one of kind in Kenya. Ms Virginia Wambui , a Kikuyu , acquired the name Otieno  after marrying an Advocate from the Luo tribe , S.M Otieno. As we have studied in this website, the Luo tribe is different from the Kikuyu tribe , yet connected at the same time.

Similarities include their Egyptian roots evidenced by language and religion. The Luo worshipped the sun like the Egyptian Horus and Kikuyu practiced circumcision, an Egyptian practice.

But differences include the fact that  the Luo tribe is Patriarchal meaning the Man is the Dominant Authority , while the Kikuyu tribe is Matriarchal , meaning the Woman is Dominant. Though for the latter Male dominance is prevailing , but ,nonetheless , does not alter the Matriarchal structure of the tribe as naming of children and the clans are still matriachally structured.

This evidenced by the fact that Kikuyu Women are married to  many tribes and races because as per culture the children are hers , showing matriarchy. Yet Luo men inter marry more than Luo women because the children belong to the man, hence patriarchal .

Hence a great clash of views.As  we write, controversy stokes Wambui’s funeral as  Wambui’s children have been accused of not visting their father’s home as per Luo culture but as per Kikuyu culture they have done nothing wrong because they bleong to the mother.

Now Ms Virginia was married to Mr Otieno thus combining the Patriarchy with the Matriarchy.

However unlike matriarchies, patriarchies are very glued to conservativeness and keep their customs .Matriarchies change , yet still keep the main structures intact.

This is the challenge that hit Wambui Otieno when her husband died .The clan of the husband found it ‘illegal ‘ for the wife to determine the burial site for her husband. The illegality was based on  Luo customs that have stood the test of time. In fact , she was fit for wife inheritance according to Luo customs. This, Wambui vehemently opposed and although the case went in favour of the clan, she had made a mark by standing up against a custom that was so ingrained in the Luo , especially burial customs.

The significance of her ordeal was that it paved way for Women’s Affirmative Action and thus gave them a voice in the family set up. However , it also posed a challenge to mixed marriages in Kenya and that is one of uniting the couple to divide the inlaws.

Wambui Otieno ‘s marriage to Otieno SM  reveals the challenges Kenyans and Africans face in the issue of mixed marriage when it comes to relating to in laws and culture.It seems extended families are being more divided than united when their children inter-marry as in Africa one gets married to the family of the spouse and not just the spouse.

Yet times are changing and conscious reconciliation of divergent cultures is what will save the institution of mixed marriages , or else Africa will be sharply divided between the pure versus the mixed , hence create cultural tensions thus political  disasters.


Wambui Otieno with Peter Mbugua....Age is but a number ??

When Wambui Otieno chose to marry a man or young man twice her age , the whole of Kenya was turned upside down , inside out. Her marriage to Peter Mbugua is now the epitome of Cross Generational Love . Tongues wagged and heads went mad as people sought which custom or religious verse did she use to justify her love for a young man.

Yet Wambui ‘s action only revealed what is happening in Modern Africa. The Loneliness of the Successful Modern African woman.

As they say it is too lonely at the top and many modern African women are at the top but without any man. Thus when it comes to settling down to get married there are few men their age or over to settle with. So why not provide for a young man ? If Older men provided for young women in the past !

With their success and money , women who are aged 50 and above look like 30  in physique and at heart thus can still attract young men of 30 or 40 who do not look haggard like the 50 years and above men , whose haggard look is due to stress Alcohol  and more stress.

Thus age becomes just a number when feelings and not customs rule the heart. Hence the liberal view is very much a construct of modern life.

Thus Wambui Otieno was truly not bound by the shackles of the past and custom that would have denied her what she desired.

Yet this one road , only few have taken as most of Africa is at the crossroads : to follow the modern heart or to stick to ancient customs. Of course there are times when one can go modern and other times when it is beneficial to stay ancient. Yet such a choice is so individual that it faces a might war with the collective desires of the society.

Thus Wambui  was involved in one conflict in two generations ; the conflict of Individualism versus Collectivism and Liberty versus Conservatism.Two conflicts that plague Africa today . Wambui’s Life reveals the conflict of time that plagues Africa today ,  conflict between the past and the future.

Arthur Owiti