'High bride price has left me unable to find a wife'

Brian Wanny

Brian Wanny.

Photo credit: Mercy Simiyu | Nation Media Group

Twice, he was close to getting married to two different women, until demands for a hefty bride price put them asunder.

In both cases, Mr Brian Wanny, 29, had found serious partners who had even introduced him to their respective families – the first in 2017 and the next in 2020.

But the bachelor somehow found himself reversing his decision to settle down because the dowry the families were demanding was too high. 

“I have taken my friends to meet the girls’ families, but the amount of money they ask for is over the roof. I am ready to move forward, I am not yet established, that’s why I am scared, because of the money that they want,” Mr Wanny said.

In 2015, Mr Wanny, a high school librarian, thought he had met the love of his life and was ready to marry her after two years of courting. He visited his girlfriend's home to get to know the parents. Little did he know, a ‘baraza’ was waiting for him. 

Photo credit: Mercy Simiyu | Nation Media Group

“I met her, she was a very beautiful girl, and luckily, she was working as a teacher in my neighbourhood, so we met often and we were inseparable, until I met her parents and they asked me to pay Sh500,000,” he said.

“I was shocked, they listed a whole lot of things, that she has a career, she has both a diploma and a degree so it came with a cost, and because she is a lady that has not given birth at home, her parents said she is ‘pure’,”

But he didn’t give up. He tried to find the money but because he is the firstborn in his family, he “had too many responsibilities, so I couldn’t afford it”.

“I talked to the girl but the pressure from her parents was too much and she started holding back a little, and slowly but slowly she cut contact with me. I was frustrated but what can a man do, move on, and I am good-looking,” he continued.

After a year of heartbreak, Mr Wanny decided to move on and swore to never fall in love again, until he met another woman from the coastal region.

He describes her as a beauty dropped from heaven. He persuaded her and knew he did not just want to date but also settle down and have a family.

“I met her in 2019. I explained to her about my past and she wanted to settle down as well, which was a big relief. In 2020, I met her parents, not for dowry negotiation but just for an introduction of sorts,” he said.

“They were happy to receive me but when we sat down with the father, he started asking me about my plans. Since I did not want to look like a desperate person, I asked them how they would want the dowry, but both wanted money.” 

They asked him about how he made his living (he was still working as a librarian) and how well-off his family was.

It did not work out. He remains single.

“I am not married, and I am not looking for a woman now. But what I can say is nowadays, payment of dowry is not easy as in those days of our parents because it comes with a lot of demands,” he said.

“Some families will make some big demands even if paying dowry is a way of showing appreciation to the family, but I feel it shouldn't be coming with a lot of demands and expectations.”

In African traditional culture, bride price is paid to the woman’s parents as a symbol of appreciation for their role in raising her and for the woman giving her hand in marriage.

But many families use it as a cash cow, driving men to avoid marriage or use shortcuts to get a wife.

Unlike Mr Wanny, Paul Ndege, 35, was luckier. He met his beautiful wife in 2016. She had just finished university and Mr Ndege convinced her to move in with her, a ‘come-we-stay” arrangement.

After a short period, they noticed they were expecting a child and that to Mr Ndege meant bride price.

Out of respect, he said, he decided to visit his wife’s parents to apologise for getting their daughter pregnant before he asked them for their blessings.

“I told my friends to accompany me, plus one of my uncles prepared to pay the dowry, and I wanted to officially apologise. Little did I know there was a big bill waiting for me to pay,” Mr Ndege reminisced. 

“I was prepared mentally by my parents that if I go, there will be a lot of penalties to pay, which I did the math and I came up with Sh200,000, but because I am a gentleman I raised it to Sh300,000, and I was just a mere boda boda driver. I had studied human resource management and I was still hustling so I opted to just invest in a motorcycle.”

Traditionally, dowry payment was a morally uplifting practice that was a symbol of two families coming together. Because of its symbolic nature, dowry was more of a gift to the bride’s family than a price.

“We found a baraza of some sort, her uncles, aunties, from both the maternal and fraternal side. The family asked us to pay Sh1 million. That shocked us. They showed us her university fee structure, stressing that their child was educated and I impregnated her before she got a job,” Mr Ndege said.

“We negotiated down to Sh800 000. That was the amount of the dowry and I had Sh300,000 only, so I paid them that and I said I would pay the remaining money later, but to my surprise, the family refused completely and said that until I finished paying, I could not leave with my wife, and that time I was driving someone else’s motorbike.”

They say love is two souls recognising each other. Mr Ndege’s wife felt her husband’s misery and came to his rescue.

“My wife came through for me,” he said. She told her family that the money they had been given was all the couple had, “and that made me stick by her until now, because she stood up for me”.

Eventually, he paid the remaining Sh500,000 to the in-laws.

In Kenya, dowry takes various forms, depending on one’s community.

Traditionally, animals were the primary mode of payment, but with changing times, money is also acceptable as it is convenient.

Dowry symbolises two things: It’s an appreciation of the woman’s family and it shows that the groom can provide for his wife and the family.

But Ms Christine Muthee, a university graduate with a master’s degree, says society needs to be more relaxed about dowry and let the man pay what he can afford.

“We are in the 21st century and I cannot put a price on my head. My parents are liberal, so I think I am open-minded that dowry is just an appreciation but not something they should force on someone,” she said.