In responding to the surging rates of divorces in Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema, the country’s president, offered a seemingly viable medicine: just stop checking on each other’s mobile phones for the smooth-sailing subsistence of the marital union.
Zambia is experiencing a spike in divorce rates, with the country recording a staggering figure of over 22,000 divorce cases in the last year alone as per local reports. And Hichilema described this prevailing state-of-affairs in the country as “unfortunate”.
But in the wake of tenuous marital stability in African post-colonial nation states riddled with capitalist and patriarchal domination as informed by the hegemonic global prevalence of white supremacist and imperial exploitation and repression, the president’s advice runs the risk of being precarious. It seems superficial and specious.
In urging his country-people to adopt strategies aimed at mitigating this regrettable surge in divorce rates, Hichilema remarked, “We marry for love, we don’t marry to go and check each other out, or to go and point a finger.
“Freedom means responsibility to limit our freedom, not to tamper with the freedom of others. Be tolerant, be understanding.”
Taken on face value, such advice may sound encouraging. But the uncanny aspect of his remarks is that he simply scratched the surface, refusing obstinately to delve deeper into structural factors underpinning socio-economic relations among people in a political economy.
It is surely disingenuous to claim that spying on each other’s phones as spouses is the chief contributor of rising divorce rates. Hichilema conveniently (or, perhaps, ignorantly) skirted the contemporary issues informing either the stability or instability of the marriage institution.
Some of the reasons attributed to the brittle nature of marriages—and this is not only in specific reference to Zambia only—include conjugal rights, adultery, gender-based violence, insults and cruelty. In the face of these factors, it is remiss of a president to tell people that the only way to preserve their marriages is by ceasing the habit of checking a partner’s phone. His advice on marriages is very much problematic.
Avowedly, marriages have increasingly become delicate. But, perhaps, this is what the marriage institution (as inherited from colonialism in the form of Westernized monogamous unions bound by civil/general law) has always been: an insecure reality threatening the freedom of the spouses therein, particularly women. Perhaps, under the strain of economic pressures and societal immobility, it is now easy to lay bare the contradictions of marriages.
Under the global hegemonic order of sexism and misogyny, predicated on patriarchal and capitalist domination, marriages have appeared more as property alliances and sources of alienated labour to feed into the global capitalist machine of production and consumption. Under patriarchal domination, women have been historically and disproportionately prejudiced—often times being sources of unpaid domestic labour; and worse still if they have jobs either in the formal or informal economies.
Patriarchal domination has placed harmful emphasis on using domination and violence as the instruments for maintaining ‘control’, ‘submission’, ‘order’, and ‘loyalty’ in marriages. As such, it is not a surprise that violence constitutes one of the reasons people file for divorce.
Because we live in a world where an ethic of domination—and not an ethic of genuine, nourishing, transformative love—is normalized in all facets of existence, people enter into marital unions with misguided notions of love. Domination—whether physical, mental, or economic—does not entail true love.
There is much to say on this phenomenon; on why marriages are increasingly failing not only in Zambia or Africa but globally. But from the truncated overview of the intersecting factors affecting the institution of marriage in the contemporary, it is clear that Hakainde Hichilema’s marriage advice is deeply problematic and unsettling; reflecting the arrogant, narcissistic, and entitlement-laden patriarchal views that are preserving the status quo of violence, domination, and dehumanization.