The remarkable case of a bride price defaulter whose partner was recently taken away from him has highlighted what experts are calling the commercialisation of marriage experience in southwestern region.
The case, whose details went viral on social media, took root after a 29-year-old Laban Sabiti, a retail businessman in Bishayu Village, Kitojo Parish, Ruhija Sub-county in Rubanda District, was left stranded with five children.
These also include a 13-month toddler, who was left to the care of its father after he allegedly failed to settle bride price arrears totalling Shs6m.
Mr Sabiti was left stranded after his father-in-law, Mr Geoffrey Kakona — a resident of Kirima Village, Bushuura parish in Kanungu District — reportedly reclaimed his daughter.
“It is true I delayed paying bride price but I was planning to pay it in December this year. I was surprised when my father in-law came and took my wife, Ms Prize Twikirize even after explaining to him that I was willing to fulfil my traditional obligation,” Mr Sabiti, who has filed a case of child neglect with the police, says.
The eldest of Mr Sabiti’s children is aged 10, while the youngest — a 13-month toddler — was still enjoying the bonding experience of breastfeeding.
Mr Sabiti’s travails highlight the marginalising and weakening of young males who intend to get married.
Ankole Kingdom premier George William Katatumba has spoken out against what he termed as ‘the commercialisation of wedding events’ as one of the greatest threats to marriage.
“Our culture is being eroded. People dictate what pleases them at the expense of culture, which is why marriages are failing,” Mr Katatumba, who is also the chairperson of Ankole Cultural Trust, says.
He adds: “Traditionally, a girl tells her parents that she has identified a suitor and the parents set a date for the spouse’s first visit. When introduction is done, parents agree on a date for bride price payment before legalising their marriage.”
Mr Katatumba notes that traditional norms were not honoured in Mr Sabiti’s case since there was no recognised marriage.
“Since Sabiiti has sired children, he has to pay a fine that usually consists of millet flour, a jerrycan of Tonto, a goat or sheep,” Mr Katatumba reveals.
‘Bride price unconstitutional’
Mbarara District senior probation officer, Mr Steven Tumwiine, weighed in on the debate, claiming bride price was outlawed by the government.
Mr Tumwiine said: “According to the laws of Uganda, dowry or bride price was abolished and any person aged 18 years and above has a right to marry a man or woman of her or his choice. So, the old man [Ms Twikirize’s father] is infringing on the rights of his daughter. The old man is also infringing on the rights of his grandchildren by denying them a chance to have parents.”
The Constitutional Court, however, in 2017, dismissed a Mifumi Ltd’s petition where the constitutionality of bride price was challenged at first instance. The court held that “the marriage custom in question was not unconstitutional.” Earlier, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice of refunding a bride price on the dissolution of a customary marriage is unconstitutional.
The marriage custom of bride price has often been treated as a sticking point. Community development officers from the districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Rubanda told Daily Monitor on Monday that men in Kigezi treat women as their property because they are forced to pay exorbitant sums in form of bride price.
“Bride price is no longer looked at as a cultural belief, but rather a commercial venture for the girls’ parents who demand too much from the men before they can give away their daughters,” Mr Sam Niyonzima, the Kisoro District community development officer, said.
How things worked in the past
Traditionally, in Kigezi and Ankole, a groom was expected to deliver two cows as bride price. Mr Sam Niyonzima, the Kisoro District community development officer says nowadays, they pay anywhere between Shs5m and Shs20m. He adds that such figures threaten rather than promote marriage.
“My district records about 10 cases of domestic violence per month. Some of the wives whose husbands have not paid bride price abandon such marriages,” he said.
The situation is not different in Rukungiri District, where prohibitively high figures have precipitated domestic violence cases.
“In the past, a spouse would pay bride price in form of four cows and four goats, but now, it ranges between Shs4m and Shs10m,” Mr Christopher Namara, the Kabale District community development officer, said.
“After paying high bride price, some husbands take their wives as a bought property, which results in family misunderstandings,” he added.
The State Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development, in-charge of Youth and Children, Ms Sarah Nyirabashitsi Mateke, advised parents not to commercialise marriage customs.
“It should be the responsibility of the husbands to pay something within their means as a token of appreciation to their in-laws,” Ms Mateke advised.