To Love and to Strike: A Look at Domestic Violence in Africa

By: Nzeribe Okechukwu

Divorce, domestic violence, child negligence, and infidelity are common stories in newspapers, on television and social media platforms. The African marital value system is no longer immune to the common threats that were assumed to be a western malady. These threats have continued to break apart homes and threaten not just the happiness of families but of our society.

In 2016, the Economist, quoting the National Bureau of statistics, projected that divorce in Nigeria was below 1%.  These figures did not consider the traditional marriages that are not subject to modern law. Because of the strength of familial bonds, divorce tends to be the last option and only if the extended families are unable to reach a reasonable conclusion to spousal disagreements. But divorce does not happen without a trigger. Divorce on its own becomes the effect of several underlying causes that have found its way into African homes.

Tragedies

But the elephant in the room ̶ the greatest threat of all ̶ is the rising tide of domestic violence. There is insufficient data on domestic violence in Africa, partly due to the stigma and silence surrounding the issue. The report of RonkeShonde, a Nigerian banker who was beaten to death by her husband, shocked many and brought to the fore the silent suffering and death of many victims of domestic violence.

In 1998, there was a report of a Kenyan police officer, Felix NthiwaMunayo who beat his wife, Betty Kavata, because there was no meat in his dinner. Paralyzed and brain-damaged, Ms. Kavata died five months later on her 28th birthday. These are just few of the cases that come to the limelight, perhaps because of the degree of violence associated with them. Many cases of domestic violence go unreported and the damage it does to the African family structure is a source of great concern.

A study by the National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 showed that domestic violence cuts across all socio and cultural background: 28%, or almost a third of women in Nigeria, have experienced physical violence. In a 2005 study on women’s health and domestic violence, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 56% of women in Tanzania and 71% of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners.

Infidelity, on the other hand, while forgivable and not posing a threat to life, is also a cause of the break in African homes. Cases of infidelity abound and its discovery has created strains which has dampened happiness in homes, or destroyed them in entirety. In 2013, the life of former Ghana Footballer, OdarteyLamptey was thrown into turmoil when DNA results revealed that he was not the biological father of his three children after 20 years of marriage.  After four years of legal battle, an Accra High Court finally gave a final ruling to the divorce case which went in favor of the former Ghana U-17 World Cup star.  

There are reported cases in Nigeria where the wife of a deceased husband only discovers his infidelity at the point of his burial or when the issue of property sharing comes up. She is stunned to hear that another woman has not only borne several children for him but also lives in a house her late husband built for her. On daily basis, cases of infidelity from either wife or husband have become a trending topic and seem to be growing at an alarming rate. It is difficult to narrow down on the causes of infidelity, as the reasons revolve from the genuine to the absurd and even to the mundane.  Although cases like that of Lamptey have disproved the belief that poverty is the main cause of infidelity, it remains one of the chief culprits.

In a 21st century world where notable strides should be made in all facets, there seems to be a growing retrogression in the African marital structure. The effect of this retrogression will be unleashed on society through dysfunctional individuals and children who are products of dysfunctional homes What then is the solution?

Keys

Legislation is one of the keys here. There urgently needs to be a change in the mindset of the
traditional law-making bodies. The deeply embedded patriarchal notion is not protecting women’s interests. There has to be a reorientation that educates on the importance of protecting woman. Sexism within the system has to go before it does more damage.

Bad news spreads fast but it is time for good news to spread faster. Several media platforms devote more time discussing marital problems rather than solutions. Another key is to ensure that media organizations as well as social media be used as a platform for correcting, admonishing, and equally educating the uninformed of the values Africans hold dear and how these values are able to protect families from these behaviors.

There seems to be a dearth of knowledge about traditional African values; they tend to be demonized as being backward. But these same values preserved the African marital system long before the advent of colonization. There is a need to understand and appreciate that whatever challenges come up in Africa they must be solved in a way that fits the African’s mentality. Educating the next generation is key.

Another important key is the application of punitive measures. They have a way of stemming the rising tide in domestic violence, child neglect, and spousal abandonment. These days, there seems to be less punitive measures applied on those who err. In several cases, the punitive measures would have been less harsh but for the intervention of women groups and Non-Governmental Agencies who redressed the wrongs. In the days before colonization, when an individual committed a grievous crime, like killing someone, his crime was seen as an abomination against the community. He was banished and instructed never to return. These strict laws ensured that sanity prevailed. A society that treats with levity, issues that threaten the family structure has the tendency to be destroyed by the victims of this neglect. Upholding and reforming punitive measures can assist in curtailing these destructive monsters.

The African society is communal in nature, its relationships transcend the nuclear family; it encompasses the extended family structure. In a 21st century world that promotes the ideals of global community to foster relationships, the African society is way ahead since its structure is built on the ideas of communal living. With this wealth of knowledge, the African society has a lot to teach. First, it must overcome the monsters that threaten its marital structures. The solutions to overcome them must come with the knowledge peculiar to the African man and woman.

Contact Nzeribe Okechukwu at okeynzeribe@gmail.com


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