Divorce and Property: My African Reflection

Marie Abanga
Marie Abanga

Divorce is a very difficult journey not in the least when it comes to living through and experiencing the dismantling of  a ‘joint venture’ that you spend time and effort creating.

What happens to the property of that ‘joint venture’ after the divorce?

Out here in the ‘West’, I think it is much easier to talk about divorce and property and to actually work out some sort of settlement or partition of that property.

My post of today is a combination of my story so far as divorce and property is concerned and some personal reflections as an African.

What is Property anyway?

To begin with, we mustn’t forget that in some traditional African societies, a woman was considered ‘property’.  I am even tempted from my experience, to say that is still very much the case in some cases today. Hey, even my own husband loved referring to me as his ‘bien’ (property).  The idea of  just trusting or letting me do my own thing was an unacceptable.

You will find at times that when there’s a divorce, the woman is often asked what right, if any, she has to claim any property after all she is never her own person; from birth she belongs to her father, guardian or husband. For instance, you will still find that in some African societies, a woman still needs her husband’s permission to open a bank account, travel out of the country, own land and/or property or make any type of investments. Where there’s a divorce, the husband will be the one to decide what happens to any money In the case of a divorce, what happens to the money in an account he authorised and may still have a say in how it is spent or handled?


Divorce and Property – My Personal Case

divorce and property joint accountOh, as for me, ‘shameless woman’, did it not suffice that l was that adulterous woman who eloped with another?

What property did I bring into the marriage? What property could I even talk of when I myself had been ‘paid for’ with the controversial ‘bride price’?

The situation as I saw best for me then, was to just leave hoping that all the investments l had made in there, will somehow pass on to my sons.

You see, obtaining a divorce in some parts of Africa is an uphill battle. Mine is still to be declared final after yes 2 years of legal parades. I did not want to make matters more complicated for me by making claim to any property. I simply would have lost both; both the freedom (to no longer bear his name just to state this) I longed for as well as the property l would have been claiming. l did make some investments in there, lots of items in that house are linked to me. Even investing in his business, and l mean financial investment, leave alone the joint account.

What I observed

l remember my parents ‘legal parades’ too.

l spoke on behalf of my siblings and l and despite being 14/15, l was very aware and could understand what was going on. The woman knows that she may not get any property if she makes a claim. Even with any justifications, the system is ‘masculine’. Even if a judgment was passed granting alimony or any partitioning, there was no redress should the man fail to abide by the judgment. If push came to shove, you could start another civil suit. That would be your choice and trouble and not the court’s or your husband’s.

The bride Price has to be refunded above all

Well, things may be simple if the woman and her family refund the bride price.  At least then she may be able to make claim on any property they acquired during their ‘joint venture’.

But, let look at it this way, how much was the bride price?

Back in the days, when a girl was born, the first man to stroll by and be interested in safeguarding her as a wife, started bringing gifts to her parents. He continued doing so and maybe also supporting her financially until it was time to ‘claim’ his wife.

The ‘bride price’, therefore, isn’t  just what he will pay on the day of the traditional marriage ceremony, no, it is all what he has spent on her and her family from the days of courting to the wedding day.

Divorce and Property

It is for the above reasons that I think talking about property and divorce in an African context is tricky. There is a lot at stake not to talk of the man’s ego. I sadly recently learnt of a man who took away both his wife and his life, because she threatened to leave him. In my humble reflections, divorce in some parts of Africa is still a very very painful journey. I may have just been one of the lucky few who made it out alive and has the guts to share her story!

Marie Abanga – Follow Marie on Twitter

Author of My Unconventional Loves: My Hurts, My Adulteries, My Redemption

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