Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that refunding of goods paid to a bride’s family after divorce was illegal, sparking celebration by rights groups who said women would no longer be “chained in violent relationships”.
In Uganda, as in many nations, the custom of the groom or his family paying a sum of money or property – known as a “bride price” – to the parents of the bride upon a marriage has a long tradition.
Bride prices are payments made from the groom’s family to the bride’s – the opposite of dowries paid in some countries, where the bride hands goods over to the man.
The Supreme Court ruled that refunding it upon dissolution of a customary marriage was unconstitutional, after local women’s rights group Mifumi launched an appeal following an earlier court decision, arguing the practice contributed to domestic violence.
“Refunding compromises the dignity of the woman,” Chief Justice Bart Katureebe said, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper, adding that paying a dowry back implied a woman was in a marriage as though on “loan”.
Mifumi said the judge’s decision was a “landmark in the history of Uganda” that meant women were “now free to walk out of an abusive relationship without fear” of how their family would pay back the bride price.
Mifumi said the payment of a bride price “reduces the status of women to cattle, to property that can be earned and paid for and exchanged for goods.”
The charity, along with 12 other individuals, first launched a 2007 petition at the Constitutional Court, arguing that the refunding of bride price portrayed women “as an article in a market for sale” amounting to “degrading treatment”.
The court however dismissed the petition in 2010, with the group then taking the case to the Supreme Court.
Kenya’s Parliament has passed a Bill allowing men to marry as many women as they want, prompting a furious backlash from female lawmakers who stormed out, reports said on Friday.
The Bill, which amended existing marriage legislation, was passed late last Thursday to formalise customary law about marrying more than one person.
The proposed Bill had initially given a wife the right to veto the husband’s choice, but male members of Parliament overcame party divisions to push through a text that dropped this clause.
“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife… this is Africa,” MP Junet Mohammed told the house, according to Nairobi’s Capital FM.
As in many parts of Africa, polygamy is common among traditional communities in Kenya, as well as among the country’s Muslim community, which accounts for up to a fifth of the population.
“Any time a man comes home with a woman, that would be assumed to be a second or third wife,” said Samuel Chepkong’a, chair of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, the Daily Nation newspaper reported.
“Under customary law, women or wives you have married do not need to be told when you’re coming home with a second or third wife. Any lady you bring home is your wife,” he added.
Female MPs stormed out of the late-night session in fury after a heated debate.
“We know that men are afraid of women’s tongues more than anything else,” female legislator Soipan Tuya told fellow MPs, according to Capital FM.
“But at the end of the day, if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party – and they may be two or three – I think it behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know,” she added.
A clause in which a partner who had promised marriage but then backed out of the wedding could face financial damages was also dropped, as male MPs argued it could have been used to extort cash.
They also argued that marriage should be based on love, and not have a financial cost placed upon it.
Parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale, a Muslim, said that men marrying more than one woman was part of the Islamic faith, but also highlighted Biblical stories to justify Christians not asking their wife before taking another.
“I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament – King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife,” Duale told the house.
Women are not allowed to marry more than one man in Kenya.
The Bill must now pass before the president to be signed before becoming law.
If you’re a single young woman, there’s one question that you’ve come to dread. It comes up at family functions, social events and random interactions, over and over again.
“When are you getting married?”
In the Somali community, this question creeps up on you as soon as you’ve turned the ‘appropriate’ age of 19. My dad regularly reminds me that people will have certain expectations of me once I begin to enter my mid-20s. One of them happens to be marriage. And, at 23, my stock is apparently plummeting by the moment. My mother was younger than me when she married, and was my age when she had me. I am clearly out of sync when it comes to the process of matrimony. What started out as “We won’t put any pressure on you about this” quickly turned into casual jokes about when my mom or younger sister are going to take out their nicest dirac (traditional Somali dress) for my wedding.
Here in Canada, after you graduate, you are expected to begin to worry about savings, retirement, and health insurance – not marriage. You start spending your money on plates, pillows and new tyres as part of your new independent lifestyle. It’s interesting to see how western culture dictates that there is no particular right age or time to get married – it happens when you are fully ready. There is no concern with getting a spouse by a certain age. Yet, being raised in an African household, our traditions tell us something else. Personally, being wedged between two very different cultures has left me feeling really confused.
The reality is that my generation seems to be marrying, buying houses and having kids later than the previous generation; in clear contradiction to the ‘traditional’ African experience. Yet here I am, like many other diaspora Africans, fearing the expectations that come with being older.
I continuously ask myself “Where is my career going?” rather than “Whom will I end up with?” The world I live is extremely different from the one my parents were raised in. The reality is that we cannot be expected to fit old-fashioned moulds of what we should have achieved or who we should be with or how many kids we should have by the time we are 23/27/30/40 years old.
It seems like the expiration date on marriage is non-existent for African males living in the west. They are expected to become financially stable before the topic of marriage is even broached. They can get married whenever they feel comfortable and ready and yet the emphasis is placed on the female to be married before it’s ‘too late’.
Personally, I can’t help but remember why my parents migrated to the west. They wanted us to enjoy the comfort of better education, opportunities and standard of living. Now, to be able to truly obtain their goals, I feel that I must follow their guidelines and succeed rather than feeling guilty about being too old to ever get married.
When we hear our relatives, family friends or even parents tell us that we must get married young ‘because we are Africans’, we must remind them that culture of marriage is only as good as its purpose to people. And, that if we continue to look at marriage from a linear perspective without allowing it to evolve, it will simply become another worthless detail about our civilisation in history books.
Many African women seem to have romanticised the ideology attached to marriage rather than marriage itself. And that, to me, is problematic. How can we uphold the dynamics of family within an African context if we romanticise the ideology rather than truly grasping the responsibilities and expectations that come with it? Marriage involves sacrifice, compromise and all those nice-sounding words that are difficult in practice – it’s not a decision one should make based on a romcom or a persistent parent.
I believe that ever-changing views on marriage have always been a matter of generational differences that affect women regardless of their racial or ethnic background. In fact, one could even say that this is a global phenomenon that isn’t explicitly tied to African women. Here in the west, marriage is not a must-do, it’s a matter of personal choice. As it should be, for women across the world.
Iman Hassan is a specialised political science student at York University in Toronto, Ontario.
A woman dubbed the “wedding thief” after carrying out a string of audacious robberies has been convicted in Ghana of stealing £5 000 from a couple at their wedding reception.
Emelia Appiah, described as a specialist in wedding thefts, stole cash gifts from a newly married couple in the west African country’s capital city by impersonating a member of the team in charge of the gift table.
In an audacious move, Appiah is reported to have gone to the bride’s house on the morning of the wedding in April under the pretence of being part of the team to dress her. The prosecutor, Inspector K Nyadikor, told the Accra circuit court Appiah was turned away because the bride was already dressed.
Nyadikor said Appiah later followed her to the church where the wedding was taking place in South La – a residential area in Accra – and impersonated another woman who was part of the team in charge of the gift table.
Church clerks, fooled by Appiah’s impersonation, then gave her access to the gifts, including envelopes containing £5 000 cash.
Appiah is believed to have used a similar tactic on several previous occasions, including one wedding where she impersonated a wedding planner.
Cash gifts and large, fluid guest lists are common at Ghanaian weddings, making them attractive targets for creative thieves.
In January Nana Sakyi Essel (18) was arrested at a wedding in Kumasi, capital of Ghana’s Ashanti region, wearing a grey suit and presenting himself to the bride’s family as one of the groom’s cousins in charge of the gifts, until he aroused one of the guests’ suspicions and the police were called.
He was later discovered to have stolen from at least one previous wedding in the city.
In 2010 Francis Degraft Johnson (26) stole about £500 from his friend’s wedding after he was asked to deposit the gifts in a bedroom at the wedding reception but made off with the cash instead.
Two men in Kenya have agreed to marry the same woman, taking turns to stay with her and helping raise her children.
Joyce Wambui had been torn between two lovers for more than four years and was unable to choose between them. So she joined in a contract stipulating that Sylvester Mwendwa and Elijah Kimani would “share” her.
But Mwendwa’s decision to go public about the unusual deal has infuriated Wambui, cost him his job and forced him into hiding to escape a public backlash in Kisauni, Mombasa.
The 26-year-old told the BBC that he entered a pact with Kimani to end their rivalry. “It could have been very dangerous if the other man would have come to her house and caught me,” he said. “So our agreement is good as it sets boundaries and helps us keep peace.”
He claimed Wambui’s parents had given her their blessing, adding: “She is like the central referee. She can say whether she wants me or my colleague.”
Wambui, a widow and mother of young twins, is said to be in her late 20s. In a separate interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, Mwendwa explained: “It’s not because she is a superwoman, but because she is a hard worker and very beautiful.”
The unusual arrangement came about after the intervention of Abdhallah Abdulrahman, a community policing officer. “The two men were quarrelling and I wanted to know what they were quarrelling about,” he said. “I found out they were sharing one woman without knowing each other. I wanted the woman to decide which she loved and agree to stay with one. Unfortunately, she refused to decide. She said, ‘I love both of them, I’m not ready to lose them.’
“Both men refused to surrender the woman. They assured me they’re going for a discussion where they’ll settle the differences themselves. They surprised me when they said they had agreed to be together.”
Abdulrahman said he was strongly opposed to the contract. “To me as a Muslim and a Kenyan, I don’t accept it,” he added. “It is against our religion and our African tradition. It is against Kenyan law. Under our Constitution it is not allowed. The community are disappointed and everybody is against it. Sylvester Mwendwa is now in hiding, saying his life is in danger.”
Mwendwa’s willingness to publicise the contract in national and international media has also caused a rift with Kimani and Wambui, putting the whole understanding in jeopardy. On Tuesday the Daily Nation reported that Mwendwa, a butcher, said his boss fired him after he heard the story, and he is reported to have gone into hiding.
Even if Wambui forgives him, there is little prospect of making the three-way marriage legal. Whereas polygamy – one man with multiple wives – is legal in Kenya and widely practised by various communities, polyandry is almost unknown.
According to Kenya’s NTV station, the contract states: “We have agreed that from today we will not threaten or have jealous feelings because of our wife, who says she’s not ready to let go of any of us. Each one will respect the day set aside for him. We agree to love each other and live peacefully. No one has forced us to make this agreement.”