African Marriages as Business Ventures

Published on 29th November 2006

Troubles, dramas and untold grief loom large within the Nigerian communities in the Diaspora. Finding their roles and place within a society most consider strange; how to raise a family that is Western as well as African; struggling to survive and at the same time provide for relatives back home; and  maintaining a successful home are at the fore of the squabbles.

And then there is the constant complain from women about men, and vice versa. Women’s grouses mostly center on the inadequacies of men: they don’t send flowers; they don’t know how to partner with women in strategic decisions; have low self-esteem and would not readily accept a woman who is smarter and earns more. Women also complain that men have either not evolved or that they evolve at a very slow pace. Somehow, the men don’t see it that way. Wayward, ungrateful, selfish, two-faced, greedy and uncooperative and lost is how some men describe some women. Women, some men would say, are in one breath asking to be treated like “African women;” and in another breath, demanding to be treated like a “lady.” That is to say that when it suits women, they act like gladiators; otherwise, they act like princesses to be treated like crowned heads.

Due to the attrition, friction and conflicts, both men and women look elsewhere for more amenable companions. However, men are more inclined, and quick to shift their gaze and concentration. Some cross the race or nationality line (which explains why an increasing number of Nigerian men are married to White women) while others  would rather go home in search of women who are less educated, less exposed to the vagaries of cosmopolitan life,  easy to manage and manipulate. In addition to the aforementioned, such men would go for women whose worldview and psyche has been ingrained with cultural and religious markers: the subservient, obedient, motherly types who believe in the superiority of men (as ordained by God and the African culture). 

The need for control partly explains why we have a large number of professionals -- medical doctors, research scientists, lawyers, pharmacists, professors, corporate bigwigs and so on and so forth -- who are married to women with mere high school education. Some would go on to earn college diplomas and become professionals alright (after 2-5 babies), but most would go on being certified housewives with may be 1-2 years of formal education, trained in nursing or nursing related fields. Others would engage in small-scale trade.  

Whether they go on to become professionals or not, the vast majority of the women in this group would stay married for a very long time because their world revolves around their children, their husbands, and the family kinship back home. But whether they are happy or not is hard to tell as they generally do not reveal their innermost thought. They don’t launder their wares in pubic for all to see. 

On the contrary, rare is the Nigerian woman who would go home to marry a man with inferior education, or marry a man of lower economic and social standing. It is rare. Nigerian women in the Diaspora like to “marry up,” hence the difficulty with some of them finding a suitable and proper man. Sadly, when it comes to education -- as far as relationship and matrimony goes -- it becomes a double-edged sword for most of them: if they are too educated and too successful, their male counterparts are likely to reject them. If they are not well-educated, they may become dependent on men. Either way one look at it, the prevailing social order has not been too kind to the Nigerian women in the Diaspora. 

It was Amy Bloom  who said: “Marriage is not a ritual or an end. It is a long, intricate, intimate dance together and nothing matters more than your own sense of balance and your choice of partner.” Unfortunately, it is this sense of self; balance and what the partners should be that has eluded and continues to elude most Nigerians. They marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time. Most have no concept of what marriage is. Most are oblivious to the fact that they have to marry the right person for the right reason. Most don’t know that they have to work at it most of the times, sacrifice their time and give up some conveniences. 

The evidence of these mistakes is every where for everyone to see. High-stake divorces involving court systems and other extralegal means like juju, voodoo and other negative spiritual acts are common. Things can and do get ugly and nasty. For instance, some of the men do find it difficult to forgive the women (especially if they had petitioned for the women to come to the US). Every so often I meet with women who were dumped, or who dumped the men in their lives. Either way, one can feel and see the volcanic emission come to the surface. 

If there are no deep investment portfolios, and if there are no children involved, things may turn out well for both parties: walking away to start a new life. However, the women are usually at a disadvantage if the union produced children. You see, a forty year old divorced man, with 1-3 kids is still able to find and marry a single woman with no kids, and who is 5-20 years his junior. Not so for the women within the African community.

African communities in the US and the UK are full of single-mothers who are actively seeking husbands. Sadly most will never be lucky in that regard. African men are notorious for avoiding women with children. As a mistress? Yes! As a “baby’s mother”? Yes! As a first wife? Rare! What we increasingly have is a “combined family:” a man with custody of his kids joining force with a woman with custody of her kids.  Visit London, Houston and Dallas, New York, Chicago and other big American cities.

Africans, and indeed, Nigerians should rethink marriage. They should spend more time courting, before proposing. Marriage should never be the means through which people get out of poverty; or used as a way to augment their own social and financial standing. And of course no one should blindly rush into marriage. Marriage is a big deal, a huge responsibility. And when a marriage fails, both partners should take it slow: take a deep breathe before making painful and irreversible decisions.

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