Thanks to a growing regional economy, more East Africans are well off and have the luxury of being able to afford decent wedding ceremonies.However, those marriages end as fast they start.Quite recently, a prominent East African scholar, expressed curiosity as to why the divorce rate in East Africa has increased. According to her, most judges conduct divorces for couples too easily. As a judge, and based on her experiences n many divorce cases, such a statement is absolutely wrong. Worse, she said most judges were motivated to gain promotion in their careers. The more they separate spouses, the more they look like serious judges.The law in East African countries stipulates that divorce can only be allowed for one among many other reasons including cases where spouses is adulterous, a drunk, a junkie or a gambler, and he or she is not yet rehabilitated, one spouse leaves the other for two years successively without any legal reason or the other’s permission, one of the spouses is convicted by a court and sentenced to a minimum three years’ incarceration or longer during the marriage or one of the spouses commits cruelty and extreme oppression which threatens the other’s safety.Also, if one of the spouses suffers from a disease and or physical defect which is incurable, preventing him or her from fulfilling his or her spousal duties, and the spouses are in an extreme and continuous dispute without hope of living together in harmony. The law stipulates some difficult requirements that need to be fulfilled by spouses seeking divorce. The law does not recognise as a basis for divorce the kind of agreement that is accepted in other countries, where spouses can mutually agree to end their marriage contract after 12 months of living separate lives.
Studies have shown that many spouses have tried to deceive the law by presenting a joint agreement to divorce while they did not have any legal reason to support their desire to divorce as stated by the law. In this case, judges are not immediately convinced to divorce them, but must examine whether they really have strong legal reasons or not. Judges will not divorce spouses if their marriage is in fact harmonious. Furthermore, judges in Uganda and Tanzania are obliged to comply where they must mention in their verdicts that a mediation procedure has been performed. If not, a verdict will be declared invalid.Spouses are given up to three months for mediation, which is extendable by three more months. Indeed, spouses have ample time to find the best solution for their marriage. They are assisted by a professional, independent mediator, or one of the judges acts as mediator.The courts work hard to save family unity and it often pays off. It is urgently noted that in litigation, judges endeavour to reconcile spouses by giving them advice. Judges are required to give serious attention to the mediation procedure. Indeed, the East African Court based in Arusha has provided a number of mediation trainings for judges. It is all aimed at saving East African families. Judges feel very happy when they succeed in mediating conflicting spouses where they’ll continue their married life with their beloved children in harmony. It is no different in style or trend to the litigation procedures in cultural courts like the Bahaya, Maasai, Turkana, Baganda and Kikuyu. Judges apply the same procedural law they used to follow. So why does divorce increase every year? There are so many factors involved, all of which are very complicated and interrelated behind a decision to divorce. First, a poor economic condition within a family will influence the longevity of married life. In 2015, divorce data from the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania showed that more than a third of couples divorced due to economic problems. In Kenya, it commonly happens that a young man is allowed to marry a girl even though he is not economically independent. He has no permanent job to make money. Even worse, he still completely depends on maintenance from his parents.
The other issue is a lack of responsibility by spouses for their marriages is also responsible for divorce. Among the nomadic communities of northern Tanzania, husband leaves his wife for several years and he never comes back. In some extreme cases, he even marries another woman wherever he goes to settle with his livestocks. It is also important to note that a continuing dispute between spouses also causes divorce. This is commonly triggered and prolonged by bad communication, immaturity and a lack of mutual understanding. In this case, judges need to examine whether there is a possibility or not to save a family by giving the spouses more time. In some cases that I have been able to access online, it is clear that Judges commonly suggests that, in such cases, couples should seek reconciliation with help from their families, religious leaders, priests and others.In Uganda, awareness of the law, particularly relating to people’s rights, also plays an important role in causing divorce. After Kenya, Uganda has the second divorce rates in the region.Clearly, when a spouse is consciously aware that his or her marriage is not working anymore and has broken down, he or she will suddenly think to go to the court. They already know that divorce can only take place in court as stipulated by the law.Interestingly, most East African women have begun to understand that they also have the legal right to end their marriage. Thus, judges have to examine and decide the cases brought before them. The divorce rate is increasing because spouses file their cases with the courts. The cultural and religious courts are the final step in solving family problems in terms of the law.However, with the aforementioned reasons, divorce cases in the region look set to continue growing.