The radio program was the Africa edition of the BBC Have Your Say. The issue bothered around age and its overbearing significance within the African context. As usual, the veteran anchor pitched against one another, Africans with opposing views on the theme.
It is by and large a slot for blistering, thundering arguments cooked in an ever-boiling cauldron of controversies. Tensions are raised; tempers lost and on occasions before opprobrious words are exchanged, the anchor timely intervenes to dowse the nigh tangible heat.
Incidentally, I chose to oppose the much-cosseted age leech that has eaten deep into the African mindset and character fabric. This rabidity seeks to equate maturity with old age, demand respect as a function of the number of years an individual as marked on earth and emphasise age instead of expected and commensurate achievement. It is this same frame of mind that lords the African man’s superiority over his woman counterpart (this remains a discourse for another day).
Just before I am labelled as an errant, ‘westernised’, neo-colonised and cheeky African or infuriate the ‘traditional’ African reader, it is expedient to say I am an uncompromised, thick-lip, bushy-hair black African, with crimson-red Nubian blood running through my capillaries. In the words of Segun Akinlolu, I was born and have always lived “where the sun never sets or rises…where the heat is like a second skin.” I highly regard only the bent-back and white-hair that has garnered the proverbial old man’s wisdom – who believes respect for age, should not be self-seeking or gratuitously accorded but earned and mutually granted to both the old and young alike.
Among the issues raised was one that sought the appropriate age for women to take marital vows. On my side of the heated debate was the legendary Yvonne Khamati (one of Kenya very young female politicians). I inexorably argued that “marriageable age” does not automatically correspond to “disposed age.” While the former might be society-imposed, the latter is self-attained. Africa and the world at large seem to believe there exists a “marriageable age” for individuals. This has placed immense pressure on the women folk, in particular. As aforementioned, this unjustified strain has made individuals especially women to hotfoot themselves into this bewildering union. Bearing in mind, this is the only institution where its students are awarded certificates before taking the final exams. How satirical!
Hence, proper preparation, self-application and maturity are essential ingredients for a long-lasting, successful marital life. “Marriageable age” is not a pre-requisite. Marriages premised on the “marriageable age” philosophy have failed in large numbers producing broken homes, adult baby daddies/mommies and wayward children as fall outs. In the African setting where divorce is considered to be an odium, extempore couples have continued to live in emotional prison cages, for face-saving sake. As a result, marital success should be a “status” rather and an “age” thing. If you are not “there”, do not dare it or you get your fingers burnt! Some may get “there” at 19, 21 or 23 years while others may in due course be matured enough for signing the dotted lines at 30, 35 or 40! Self-disposition (which includes character building, self-actualisation, maturity and self-discipline) preponderates any form of pressure either society- or self-imposed.
Howbeit, this stance threw up a couple of issues during the BBC Africa Have Your Say showdown. The 21st century African woman has come to a state of self-assertion unlike her primordial fellow. She now acquires formal (western) education even up to the tertiary level (Study periods are lengthened in certain African countries by epileptic academic calendar due to incessant industrial actions). Pursuing a professional career is also paramount to her. All these have made contemporary women to say “I do” at older ages. Moreover, it was said there exists a physiological threshold a woman crosses, age-wise which might make her medically unfit to conceive and/or deliver a baby.
Nonetheless, one wonders if procreation outweighs the gains of a flourishing matrimony (which demands fidelity and self-discipline, at all times) with its accompanied emotional and mental constancy, the absence of which can impair every other sphere of living. Why should one sign him/herself off to a life of misery, abject rejection and psychosomatic trauma when he/she is not equipped for wedlock, all because “time is ticking out”? Apropos, is marriage all about breeding? What happens to companionship and mutual connectivity?
Individuals must first be “single” before opting to tie the knots or they might end up tying the noose. Being “single” means taking an inward journey of self-discovery. There is nothing that precludes women from attaining just like men, before taking the sacred vows. Marriage is not an avenue for the other party to absolve one’s problems and indulgences. Rather, both partners must constantly seek the happiness and bliss of the other. In doing this, marital vows are kept; characters moulded; upright offspring raised and at large, the society’s sanity is maintained.
Let the criticisms gush in!