By Steve Biko Abuya
Published July 19, 2014
Sipping a cup of tea one early morning while leafing through a newspaper and listening to my favorite radio show, two things struck me as being odd.
“I have been dating four different men simultaneously for the past few weeks…it is better to cast one’s net far and wide, weigh the options rather than drive yourself crazy over one lousy guy or woman,” an article, written by a woman in the newspaper said.
As if that wan’t enough shock for the day, I heard the radio presenter say on air, “From today henceforth, I declare you husband and wife.”
A woman had sent a short text message (SMS) to the programme requesting the station to help her get a ‘husband’ and they had just found a ‘perfect match’ for her.
Such is the level to which ‘relationships’ in general and ‘marriage’ in particular in urban Africa have sunk: declaring people who have never met—leave alone knowing the names of each other—’husband-and-wife’ shows the contempt with which marriage relationships among ‘modern’ Africans are taken.
Although faiths like Christianity that many in sub-Saharan Africa embrace espouse high moral integrity and faithfulness among spouses, that teaching appears not to hold when it comes to relationships that are now being referred to as ‘Situationships’ in social media.
We pretend to abhor polygamy and polyandry yet we practise them officially as Mpango Wa Kando (clandestine love) in Kenyan Kiswahili).
In Uganda, for instance, a survey commissioned by Uganda Christian Aids Network (UCAN) in 2013 revealed that 70% of Christian couples in the country’s five major denominations—Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Orthodox—confessed to being involved in extramarital affairs.
On realising that neither Christian morality nor the fear of sexually transmitted infections could make couples faithful, Kenya’s National Aids Control Council, that had waged a high profile media campaign against extra-marital affairs, changed its approach to Weka Kondomu Mpangoni (Use a condom when not relating with your regular partner). Its Acha Mpango wa Kando (Stop extramarital affairs in Kiswahili) had, instead of discouraging the practice, ended up popularising it.
If things don’t work out in our ‘situationships’, we no longer have to make them work but opt for the easier way out: quit the situationship. There is little commitment in our situationships. We sell ‘love’ to the highest bidder.
We have made it easier to fall in and out of ‘love’. Our situationships, usually based on fantasy coated with lies that often return at the wrong time to haunt us, are made on Facebook. How often do our ‘friends’ see us change our situationship status from ‘Single’ to ‘Engaged’, ‘Married’, ‘In a Relationship’, and to ‘Single’ again on social media in a span of three months? That is the rule rather than the exception!
Relationships leading to marriage in most African communities were handled carefully. Prospective spouses had to know not just each other thoroughly but also the backgrounds of each other’s families. That thoroughness was important because African marriages aren’t based on the principle of ‘Till Death Do Part Us’; African marriages are ‘forever’. ‘Divorce’ and ‘Separation’ were not only rare but also very expensive.
But ‘modern’ Africans are dispensing with the traditional formalities, loyalties and commitment and reaping its consequences. They prefer to use the easier ‘Come We Stay’ way that is also easier to wriggle through if things don’t work out.