By John Nkemnji, Ph.D.*
Africans abroad face social, cultural, racial, and climatic challenges. Despite this reality, Africans struggle to migrate from their home countries to Europe or the USA. Life in the new society obligates immigrants to educate themselves, become productive community members, and sustain themselves with jobs. Africans who migrate abroad as single people face the challenge of looking for a compatible spouse. African immigrant’s adult children face a similar challenge. I am curious to find out how lovebirds connect.
In Africa, it is customary for extended family members to help single people find a spouse; however, it is not the same or that easy for Africans abroad. Securing a soulmate abroad presents difficulties. Unlike educational attainment, which is an individual effort, educated Africans have not fared well in marriage and family life. The legal marriage age is 18, and in Africa, a delay in marriage for females is typically by choice and not because of the scarcity of candidates or external circumstances.
Marital challenges are more complicated for female immigrants, since the ratio of beautiful queens to male counterparts is about ten-to-one. It seems this is a longstanding imbalance and could be why polygamy is accepted in Africa over polyandry. In African tradition, wealthy men marry multiple wives as a status of wealth and power. The more wives a noble has, the more his wealth grows. The traditional housewife and children work the farms, feed the families, and earn some income by selling produce for daily consumption (buyam, sellam). Christianity discouraged that practice but gave rise to flirting.
Companionship and childbirth are reasons for marriage. However, some females seem constrained by what they refer to as their “biological clock.” It is challenging for a single mother working 7 days a week to secure a spouse, so many older working-class ladies are single parents. As a consequence of supply and demand, some people give up on the idea of marriage and become content with their jobs. There is a time for everything. Don’t be too impatient.
The struggles for daily survival abroad make it difficult to court and vet partners. In Africa, selecting a spouse is usually a collective family affair as families stay in close quarters and know each other. The youth attend school around the same city and intermingle both in and out of school. They know each other even when they are not dating or looking for a spouse. There are opportunities to socialize and be friendly at both the individual and family levels abound. During the search for a spouse, everyone in the family gives advice and consent. However, communities believe that some family’s children are bad for marriage. Such families are blacklisted because of prior marital problems or other cultural taboos like wariness of witchcraft, genetic illness, violence, or mental instability. It is believed that fruit does not fall far from its tree.
Females undergo greater scrutiny in courtship. Some ladies are described as church-girls and others as club-girls (pious and party mates). The church-girls are usually simple (not flashy), have less expensive taste, and are recommended as the type that will make good housewives. Neighborhood bachelors know and respect them and their families. Church-girls easily find husbands locally because of extended family vetting and recommendation. However, if no bachelor from the community is available, a bachelor from abroad could ask for their hand in marriage. The reverse is not usually true – ladies hardly go home to get married and bring husbands abroad.
Sometimes women like Abishiola, a Nigerian nurse character on TV, end up with partners from different ethnic backgrounds. Interracial and international marriages are on the rise. The single immigrant sometimes marries an available spouse to have children for the impatient grandparents inquiring to see grandchildren. Some marriages without children end up in divorce because of pressure from extended family members.
The African diaspora is scattered across the nation and lacks extended family support. Due to the struggles and challenges of surviving abroad, there are few opportunities for singles to meet, socialize, and know each other. Before COVID-19, professional, cultural, and educational associations brought immigrants together. Such groups are few and expensive to join and do not provide adequate opportunities for members to get acquainted and vet partners for successful marriages. They are unlike dating services, but offer the opportunity for members to write, publish, or put out their identity/candidature on their social media platforms, directories, or almanacs. Eligible singles on the market are plentiful and keep growing with the influx of youth from Africa. For cultural reasons, African immigrants are not comfortable using dating services (Blackpeoplemeet, EliteSingles, eHarmony, and others).
Once you are engaged, develop a bond of trust and respect for each other and know that married life is good but has its twists and turns. Never get engaged, thinking you will change your spouse, instead learn to tolerate, forgive, and compromise. Many African marriages end in divorce because couples went in blindly or overtime, undergo a cultural transformation. If you seek a partner, be genuine, and set reasonable expectations before you tie the knot. Keep an open mind and a support network. Know that beauty may attract the eye, but it is character and personality that will keep you together. Stand out as a candidate by doing something praiseworthy, an act of kindness, volunteerism or other accomplishment, for the community and humanity. It is good to be patient and outgoing and to know that no two persons reason and behave the same.
Unlike their colleagues from Asia, African immigrants do not have strong cultural and social ties imported from the continent. Keep in touch with your immigrant communities and not blindly follow materialism. Spend quality time with your family. Inform the families back home to let you enjoy your new marital home and not make unreasonable demands. Respect the laws in your host country and keep learning and growing together. Good luck to all lovebirds on the market and same to those who are already building their lives together.
- Dr. John Nkemnji is Professor Emeritus, Educational Technology. He is an educational consultant and a proponent for life-long learning. The views expressed in this article are based on experience with Cameroonian, Nigerian, Ghanaian, and Kenyan modern courtship – true of most Christian and Muslim African States.