It is supposed to be a life time commitment. Till death does you apart are the vows you make before you walk down the aisle. In good and bad times, in health and in sickness you commit to go through all this for a life time. These are the vows couples make when getting married.
However, these vows are becoming more ceremonial and the married are backtracking on them. To some people, walking out of a marriage has become like a walk in the park.
Divorce, which had been for a long time viewed as a ‘foreign’ trait, is slowly moving from a topic read in international media outlets to a reality with cases being filed in local courts and plaintiffs seeking to end what was to be a lifelong commitment.
So far Nyarugenge Primary court has registered 48 cases in the first eight months of the year and a total of 46 cases last year. Joan Ngabire, a marriage counselor says she receives about 6 couples every week. Many of them on the verge of divorcing. National statistics on divorce cases are not readily available but the trend at local courts shows an increasing number of people filing for divorce.
When religious leaders conduct the wedding ceremonies, the union formed is not meant to be a temporary one, it is meant to be a lifelong commitment. And it worries Pastor Maurice Rukimbira that for some, it doesn’t remain so. “Marriage is meant to last through hard and easy times. After marriage, man and woman become one as Genesis 2:24 says. It’s a bond that should remain so.”
Pastor Rukimbira says the increasing cases of divorce could be nipped if premarital counseling was done more intensively. “When premarital counseling is done well enough one out of ten couples decide to put off their wedding and some end up not doing it. Usually most people come in for counseling when they have already prepared for the wedding including setting a date which makes it hard for them to change their minds.”
The pastor is of the opinion that premarital counseling should be done well in advance so that the couple has time to make a decision. He also figures that counseling would be more effective if couples take the sessions seriously and not view themselves as mature or beyond taking lessons. “At times when people have personal achievements like big careers, they consider themselves too intelligent, wise and equipped to handle marriage on their own. It could be a little intimidating for a counselor or pastor to talk to a high achiever who is not too eager to learn,” the pastor says.
But as some look at divorce as a vice, others choose to look at it as a step towards development and personal happiness. They see it as a chance and opportunity to avoid a life time of depression, stress and unhappiness. Amongst these people is Martin Rwirangira, a 31-year-old bachelor who says he is “not ready for marriage yet.”
“At times emotions can blind you from seeing the truth about people you think you love. After a while in the course of marriage, the true being of your partner emerges and most times it turns out different from what you thought. Rather than have an unhappy marriage, it would be wise to leave,” he says.
Rwirangira says that people ought to look at divorces differently as bold people are not ashamed of admitting they were unhappy and deserve better. “Rather than looking at those who opt for divorce as insatiable and unsettled, the society should look at them as people who know what they want and are honest enough to admit they made a mistake,” Rwirangira quips.
On what society makes of divorcees, Beatah Gasana, a 38-year-old mother of three says they are viewed as inconsiderate. “When one files for divorce, few people see it as pursuit of happiness, most people will point fingers saying they are after money and inconsiderate about the welfare of the children,” Gasana says.
Gasana who says she has been happily married for more than a decade says divorce should not be an option. “When a couple has a problem, there are ways to deal with it, talk, seek advice and guidance from parents but parting ways does not consider innocent children who are then put in the middle of a rift they didn’t choose.”
“When you part ways, it shows you were not true to the vows you made that you would stick together through thick and thin. What happens when you move on to a second marriage and don’t find the contention you thought you would find? Do you keep moving from marriage to marriage?” Gasana asks.
Though against it, she is not quick to dismiss divorce saying there are situations which stand out. “I have seen a lady who had to leave her marriage when her husband became very abusive and violent to an extent that she had scars on her body. Other times you find that one party has been unfaithful and could easily infect his or her partner with sexually transmitted diseases. Such things would cause irreconcilable differences leaving no option but divorce.”
Amongst the legal grounds in the country are adultery committed by one party, an imprisonment sentence of more than six months, abandoning one’s home for more than twelve months and refusal to support the family financially and materially.
Doreen Ingabire, a civil lawyer based in Kigali, says that divorce cases are still considerably low in Rwanda compared to other countries in the region, probably due to constraints of time, resources and the unending processes involved. “These cases take time after filing and they are also expensive. This probably holds people back with some choosing to have an informal separation.”
Ingabire explains that the disadvantage of an informal separation is that it is not possible to remarry as it would be considered polygamy. “Most people who file for divorce in court are people who probably co-own considerably amounts of wealth and have to share it. That is why it is mostly associated with rich people.”
The lawyer sees it as a step towards liberalism and an indicator that people are informed of the law and their rights. “It is not necessarily a bad thing, it is proof that people know their rights and what they deserve and are doing something about it. They are not just aware, they are actually pursuing it.”
Hassan Umuhoza, a 53-year-old, explains that divorce could be gaining popularity because of the equality of the partners. According to him the previous bridge between the men who used to be the sole bread winner is reducing and women who used to be submissive is getting less by the day making it harder for most of them to tolerate unhappiness.
“Unhappy marriages have always existed, it is just that few people had a way out or were bold enough to walk out, but nowadays women have their own money and can support themselves if they feel things are not working out as they hoped. As much as it can be called a sign of progress, most of what causes like rifts between partners are small differences that can be settled by talking and being understanding. It could be that people of your (young) generation have lesser patience and ability to work things out,” Umuhoza says.
As much as the African culture frowns upon divorce and separation, several aspects of the culture have been re-evaluated by the society and deemed as ‘past time’ and no longer practical in today’s life style.
Questions like ‘is it okay to remain in an abusive relationship so as not to break a pact?’ are causing the re-evaluation of the phrase ‘till death do us part’. Whether divorce is another trait that we will pick up in the name of the pursuit of happiness is still on the scales with both sides coming out as reasonable.
Divorce can change your life. What are your in-laws to you after divorce? What happens when your spouse gets married to someone else? It’s a very tough time for the children and if it can be avoided then so be it.
Esther Ssentongo, S6 leaver
It doesn’t make sense to stay with someone who makes you unhappy. Honestly people change so why would you cling to someone that makes your days dull for the rest of your life? It doesn’t add up and I think divorce could be a way out.
Deogratious Gisa, Business man and student
It’s not as easy as it sounds. By the time things get to divorce terms, the relationship is pretty much dead. I decided to divorce my wife because our children were suffering. We used to fight a lot and I don’t think it was healthy for them. Sometimes it’s necessary.
Serege Nkurunziza, divorced father of three
People rush into marriage and that is why they are quick to get divorced these days. I don’t think it is a wise move to make. Many people get hurt and it causes a lot of pain in life.
Ruth Ingabire, Accountant
Compiled byPatrick Buchana