In what could be described as an early ‘April Fool’s Day’ prank, a story originally posted by an obscure Somali website reported unnamed “activists” posted a memo on a social media site allegedly from the Eritrean government asking men to marry at least two wives due to shortage of men caused by war.
The document, which was written in Arabic, says the State of Eritrea called for all men in the country to marry at least two wives and the government assuring that it will pay for the marriage ceremonies and houses. It added any man or woman who oppose the decision “will face a life sentence”.
The story would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the Digital Standard, a popular tabloid Kenyan website, which published the story to a Kenyan audience that are very active on social media sites like Twitter.
Since their report, the Eritrea hashtag has been trending in Kenya and to a lesser degree, in Nigeria. Hundreds of tweets have been made, with many men from Kenya and Nigeria professing they will visit Eritrea to get their share of wives.
Many African countries still allow polygamy and some, including Kenya, have even enshrined it in their constitutions.
Amid the frenzy of tweets, many Eritreans pointed out that the bogus report goes against the recently instituted Penal Code of Eritrea, which practically makes polygamy illegal in the country:
1) Except where polygamy is recognized under civil law in conformity with tradition or religious usage, a person who, being tied by the bond of a valid marriage, intentionally contracts another marriage before the first union has been dissolved or annulled; or
(2) Any unmarried person who marries another he knows to be tied by the bond of an existing marriage, is guilty of bigamy, a Class 1 petty offence, punishable with a definite term of imprisonment of not less than 6 months and not more than 12 months, or a fine of 20,001 – 50,000 Nakfas, to be set in intervals of 2,500 Nakfas; or
(3) Limitations of criminal proceedings shall be suspended until such time as one of the marriages shall have been dissolved or annulled.
Moreover, there is no shortage of Eritrean men. According to the CIA Factbook, Eritrea has the same male/female ratio as most countries.
Eritrea is no stranger to hoaxes. In 2013, Eritrea experienced what is now infamously known as the “Twitter coup”, in which many credible news agencies falsely claimed a coup took place in Eritrea.