Two First Ladies At Presidential Palace In A Senegal First

In the last minutes of the election campaign, Senegal’s president-elect, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, took the platform while clutching the hands of both his wives, Marie and Absa.

It was an unusual spectacle in West African national politics, and the first-round winner made a clear choice that promised drastic change.

Polygamy is a cultural and religious practice that is deeply ingrained in Senegal’s society, where Muslims make up the vast majority.

Marie Khone, who has never been in the spotlight, is from the same hamlet as 44-year-old Faye. They got married 15 years ago and had four children.

He married his second wife, Absa, just over a year ago.

“It’s the ultimate recognition of the tradition of polygamy at the top of the state, with a situation that will reflect Senegalese reality,” sociologist Djiby Diakhate said.

Many males admire the approach, while women are “mistrustful,” he said.

Polygamy has long been fraught with controversy, and BDF’s public presence with his two wives at his side, cheered on by hundreds of his admirers, has made it a hot topic in the media, online, and at home, eliciting a wide range of reactions.

“Being a second wife suits me better than being a first,” well-known singer Mia Guisse said proudly in a video that recently went viral.

Reputed sociologist Fatou Sow Sarr said on X, formerly Twitter, that “polygamy, monogamy, polyandry are matrimonial models determined by the history of every nation”.

“These models are now in competition with homosexual marriage,” he added, in a country where homosexuality is punishable by between one and five years in jail.

“I really think that the West has no legitimacy to judge our cultures,” Sarr added in a follow-up message on X.

Nonetheless, many Senegalese women consider polygamy immoral and unjust, and the UN Human Rights Committee stated in a 2022 report that it constitutes discrimination against women and should be abolished.

‘Totally new’ situation

Senegalese author Mariama Ba’s 1979 novel “So Long a Letter” was highly critical of polygamy, showing a woman’s grief and loneliness after her husband took a second, younger wife.

Many famous television shows in recent years, such as “Mistress of a Married Man” and “Polygamy,” have examined the ups and downs of family life in polygamous households.

Penda Mbow, a former cultural minister and history professor, stated that the marriage situation in the presidential house is “totally new”.

“Until now, there was only one First Lady. This means the entire protocol must be reviewed,” he added.

Polygamy is common in Senegal, particularly in rural regions, and is regarded a means of expanding one’s family.

Islam allows men to have up to four wives if they have the financial resources. In such cases, it is necessary to spend equal, alternating time with the wives, ranging from two to three days.

 ‘Strong signal’

Many marriages are not registered in Senegal, making it difficult to determine how many are polygamous.

However, according to a 2013 report by the national statistics and demographics bureau, 32.5 percent of married Senegalese adults were in polygamous relationships.

According to the survey, the average age of women at the time of marriage was 40.4 years, while men’s average age was 52.9.

Diakhate, the sociologist, stated that Faye had sent a “strong signal so that other men accept their polygamy and demonstrate transparency like him”.

He stated that there was “undoubtedly a will” to abolish secret polygamy, known in the Wolof language as Takou Souf, which he added would be “a good thing for the country’s economy and the matrimonial situation”.

In response to opponents, the new president, who won 54.28 percent of the vote on March 24, expresses nothing but satisfaction in his family circumstances.

“I have beautiful children because I have wonderful wives. They are very beautiful. I give thanks to God they are always fully behind me,” he said during the presidential race.

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