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The price of a bride

By Agnes E. Nantaba

You can pay it, but don’t expect a refund

At Namirembe Cathedral where Jessica Wanyana and her fiancee Moses Loku plan to take their vows on their wedding dayscheduled for Sept. 6, one of the crucial requirements is a customary marriage certificate tabled as consent letter from the bride’s parents.

This couple had most of the requirements; a letter from the priest where the bride/groom attends church, originals and photocopies of baptism certificates, and Shs508,000 for a special wedding service. But the church insisted on the customary marriage certificate.


“For one to get married at Namirembe cathedral, all the requirements must be brought to the clergy before committing yourself.This is important before deciding to register with St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe,” the Dean’s Secretary told the couple.

According to the Buganda traditions where Wanyana belongs, the consent letter is only issued by the bride’s father after completion of all the rituals for a customary marriage. Key at this ceremony is the bride price (Omutwalo or the symbolic Shs10, 000).   In reality, the mutwalo can grow into millions of shillings as it is determined by the bride’s father in respect to culture, the perceived ability of the groom to pay, and the determination of the bride’s family.

To many Baganda like Eseza Nakamaanya of the royal lineage, bride price is more of appreciation to the bride’s parents for the proper upbringing of a daughter rather than a ‘price’ as some people refer to it.

“Omutwalo is the only thing that parents ask for and without it the certificate is not issued. The accompaniments are based on choice from the groom’s family and are therefore never dictated,” Nakamaanya notes. So Wanyana and Loku headed to her father’s home for the traditional marriage. For the bride price, Wanyana recalls, her father being a devoted Anglican only asked for a Bible and anAnglican Hymn book, which literally confirms that this was just a traditional symbol for the parents to give away their daughter.  And with the possession of the letter, the couple fulfilled all the requirements that permit them to take their marriage vows in a fortnight.

It is unclear what the impact of the Aug.6 Supreme Court ruling on bride price will be on arrangements like this.

The Supreme Court ruled that the practice of refunding a bride price on the dissolution of a customary marriage is unconstitutional and should be banned.

Uganda’s Chief Justice Bart Katureebe led the panel of other Justices including Benjamin Odoki, Galdino Okello, Wilson Tsekooko, Jotham Tumwesigye, Esther Kisakye, and Christine Kitumba

“Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman,” Chief Justice Bert Katureebe said.

The case was fronted by MIFUMI Project a women’s rights organisation based in Uganda. It argued that allowing men to ask for a mandatory refund from the bride’s family implies that women are property, and that women in abusive relationships seeking a divorce are likely to be trapped if they have no funds to pay back the bride price.

This is not the first time the organisation has petitioned court on the custom of the bride price. In 2007 it challenged the constitutionality of the practice.

“Bride price as a condition for a customary marriage undermines the dignity of women, perpetuates gender inequality, and erodes their right to consent freely to marriage,” Leah Nabunya, Mifumi Project publicist says, “The initial intentions of bride price were positive but as societies have changed the institution has become commercialised, and as a result it has had significant multi-faceted implications, particularly on the rights of women to a violence-free life.”

But in March 2010, Uganda’s Supreme Court upheld the practice, saying the bride price was protected in the country’s constitution.Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage under customary laws which underscore the payment of bride price.

Rev. Abbey Merewooma of the Church of Uganda is in support of the court move to ban refund of bride price. He,however, says that the issue of bride price should also be looked at from the biblical perspective quoting Genesis chapter 24 where Isaac son of Abraham paid bride price for his wife Rebecca.  “Bride price is something that can never be banned since it is part of culture. But it would be going out of proportion for a man to seek refund of it on divorcing his wife since culturally bride price is an issue handled by parents,” explained Merewooma.

“Marriage is an institution involving primarily two people and therefore for a man to seek refund is transferring the cause of divorce to the bride’s parents.”

Mifumi’s argued that bride price subjects women to violence and abuse as they are equated to property that has been purchased. Furthermore, women could not leave an abusive marriage unless they refunded the bride price which most could not afford to.

Mifumi’s Nabunya said that the decision was a victory.

“We have not got everything we wanted but at least we know that people will start being cautious paying too much when they know there is going to be no refund when there is failure of the marriage,” says Human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, who has been the principal lawyer for the MIFUMI petition.

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