Marriage in Africa used to be a sacred institution which is held in high esteem because of its contribution to human existence and society. Due to the value placed on the institution, divorce was a rare occurrence. However, the situation has totally changed in recent times. The high rates of divorce in Africa and among Africans in the diaspora, a practice which used to be alien to the African culture has generated concerns of whether the African values that held the institution of marriage together in the days of old are gradually fading away.
In recent times, news of broken marriages, divorce and failed relationships has been consistent. In the Nigerian social media space for instance, the drama of infidelity and blackmail in celebrity marriages is still trending. Unlike the days of old, divorce rates are soaring which a lot of people have tagged ‘Unafrican.’ Now, the question on the lips of most people is: ‘how did we get to this stage as Africans considering the huge importance we have always attached to marriage?’
Could modernization and westernization have taken away the deepness attached to the institution called marriage? Is the covenant side of marriage engraved in both culture and religion being sidelined? Could it also be that there is a somewhat decline in our values as Africans? Typical to the marriage institution of old is the role of the extended family in the resolution of disputes between couples because the union of marriage is believed to go beyond the couples to the families involved and the society. Could the gradual breakdown of the extended family in line with modern trends and the neglect of its role in marriage be another factor?
One of the values we had in the past which is no longer a commonplace is the process of enquiry by both families before wedding process begins. Families ask questions of not just the interest of the potential spouse but the family’s behavioral patterns, health, genealogy and all. But ‘modern’ arguments have emerged that it is not necessary as marriage involves only two people and nothing more. This has influenced some people to neglect this practice which was done to enable those about to enter into marriage to reconsider their choices if need be and also be aware of the good, bad and ugly patterns in their potential spouses and family before venturing into it. These and some other values of the African society are no longer seen as priority.
Some schools of thought believe that the high rate of divorce today compared to the days of old is due to the assertion that, women swallowed a lot of maltreatment and never spoke out or had the boldness to walk away from marriages. They argued that, with the wave of liberalism, women are seen to be voicing out cases of domestic violence, infidelity and are now encouraged to walk away if possible, instead of enduring these anomalies in the name of keeping their homes.
However, this has been considered widely by African scholars as an excuse and not a solution to the problem. According to their argument, issues of domestic violence existed in the past but were resolved by the family units and efficient traditional structures with offenders punished without the end product being alarming divorce as has been the case today where some attempts to resolve disputes with modern institutions further creates bitterness between couples.
In the United States for instance, divorce rate among African Americans is quite high leading to many single parenthood households where mothers are usually seen raising their children alone. With the increasing rate of divorce in Africa, could there be fear of the above instance loading in the nearest future?
It is somehow scary to think about the wave of broken marriages spiraling in the society is not only limited to the man and the woman involved. The large chunk of the effect is laid on the children which affects their outlook on marriage and society in general. The effects have been traced to crimes, drug abuse, decayed morality, etc. In the long run, the effect of divorce is felt by all and sundry.
It is important to note that, cases of divorce in African countries remain in single digits compared to other continents. However, the normalization of the increasing news of divorce has to be addressed before it explodes. Like an Igbo proverb says; when an anomaly stays for a while, it gradually becomes a tradition if not controlled