I like Bishop Dag Heward-Mills for his frankness and confrontational honesty. While pundits and journalists extolled the peace-loving nature of Ghanaians and the fairness of our justice system for allowing the results of our 2012 elections to be contested in the Supreme Court, Bishop Heward-Mills dished out the real truth about the people of Ghana: We are hypocrites and not as religious as we think. We are not a sincere people if we cannot conduct genuine elections when nearly 70% of Ghanaians go to church and some 18% go to the mosque to flaunt their faith in God. It’s all a façade.
Well, there is another disturbing revelation about the hypocrisy of the people of Ghana that shakes the foundations of our family values and traditional beliefs. Last week, the Ghana Statistical Service reported that nearly 600,000 marriages contracted in Ghana have collapsed, more than three times the divorce cases of England and Wales put together in 2012. Yet we have always lamented the divorce rates in countries in the West, and patted ourselves for not being as vane and irreligious as other people.
On Joy FM’s Ghana Connect, my favourite journalist, Evans Mensah, sampled the views of a marriage counsellor, radio relationship talk show host, and married Ghanaians in Ghana and abroad. While many of them put it down to boring sex, the marriage counsellor threw some brilliant flashes of thoughtful insight on something we all take for granted: The reasons that compel any couple to divorce predate the marriage. In other words, the couple knew the reasons before they said ‘I do’, but they decided to ignore them. The other revelation was that men marry for two reasons: beauty and a very canal desire for legal and regular sex. Women want comfort and good sex, and often need men to understand that sex can be rationed like Akosombo electricity.
Sex is a taboo subject in many Ghanaian marriages, it was also revealed. Couples find it difficult or perhaps ‘culturally inappropriate’ to discuss details of their sex lives and agree on sexual positions that promote better orgasms and great kinky satisfaction. Well, that is also true for the people of other cultures, especially in the West. The average white woman respects the boundaries of womanly modesty, and is usually not able to demand sex from her husband with brazen confidence. Like Ghanaian women, they can bear with bad sex and pretend it’s all good and stay married, because of the children. Like our women, they know sex is initiated by men and are only expected to respond. Those who do wife swaps are considered weird by their own families.
I know this because I have had common law relationships with English and Canadian women. Apart from the food and language, and some manifestations of cultural differences, it is the same as living with a Ghanaian wife. ‘Fa ma Nyame’ is not an arbitrator in Ghana alone; most cultures let go and let God–for the sake of peace.
So what has accounted for the many cases of divorce in Ghana when the people of cultures we have always branded ‘ungodly’ and ‘culturally unrestricted’ are keeping their marital vows? After staying away for twelve years in other cultures, I came to Ghana in January this year to find a society that still keeps the values of our forefathers, but has grown with the times to put survival and interest first, and society second. While many Ghanaian ladies would want to marry before having children, and not as single mothers, it is no more shameful to have a child out of wedlock. There is a growing number of middle-level career women in Ghana who have walked out of their marriages to be proud single mums. They are not in a rush to marry again, and they are not bothered.
Similarly, there are successful Ghanaian men who are happy being good fathers to children from ‘baby mamas’. Their refrain is ‘we have a child together’ and they don’t intend marrying the mother of the baby. The two understand the terms of the relationship and do not see themselves as breaking any rules. They are not rushing to pose for cameras before a gathering of hypocrites to obtain permission to be happy or accepted. If society has prescribed norms for decency, society should accommodate the interests of people who have dared to choose another route to happiness.
Ghanaians are marrying early these days, and it is very good. I have seen a few 25 year old young men who are married or are planning to settle down with their young sweethearts. There are better and well-paying employment opportunities in the country than what we found when we left university in the 90s and early 2000s. Our churches literally force young people to do ‘the right thing’ to avoid the temptation of fornication. Counselling sessions are quickly arranged for two youngsters who give the slightest indication of some form of friendship. They are prepared for an event, not marriage.
Marriage experts say that quickie marriages lead to snappy divorces. Similarly, very expensive marriages do not work, especially when couples use another person’s marriage as a target, and set out to outspend them. Roverman’s Uncle Ebo Whyte warns of terrible consequences for such marriages. These also add to the divorce rate.
Usually, we blame influences from foreign cultures for these problems. But what reasons do we have to blame the West when our friends in Britain are sticking to their vows when 600,000 of us have already been married and divorced. Some say a fraction of the huge figure may be the result of fraudulent marriages, where Ghanaians living abroad fly home to sign marriage papers with their relatives, to facilitate their travel abroad. Those marriages are abrogated the same day their visa is approved. Anyhow, we have a national crisis on our hands. A society that cannot hold family together cannot stand together. And when we don’t stand together, we cannot build a society.