Eight days before a young couple in Nairobi’s Mwiki estate earned fame by holding a Sh100 wedding, a development from neighbouring Somalia has sparked debate across Africa.
Administrators in Beled Hawa Town have banned lavish weddings because young men were finding it extremely hard to marry, leading to the birth of 150 children out of wedlock, a development that alarmed the town’s officials.
The BBC reported that the stiff cost of tying the knot, which could go up to Sh500,000, had also caused many people to migrate from the town.
The area commissioner Mohamud Osman said the new spending limits had been set at Sh60,000 for furnishing of a couple’s new home and Sh15,000 for bride price.
Receptions in hotels, he said, will no longer be allowed and only three goats can be slaughtered for guests.
“That is all what it needs to be done in African countries to inspire youths,” posted Basiru Dembajang, a Gambian, on Facebook in reaction to the BBC story.
The Somalia example may seem remote in Kenyan circumstances, but going by the precedents set in weddings — some of which have been aired on television — a cost cap may soon be needed in Kenya if youth are to afford weddings.
Lavish reception venues, mind-boggling vehicle fleets, extravagant photography budgets, large cakes, expensive golden rings, imported garments among others are the items that feature in the budgets of modern-day weddings and which have made many feel out of place in the wedding economy.
“A common vice witnessed is that people plan for the wedding and not the marriage. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing people have a big wedding but the marriage disintegrates after a month,” says Canon Sammy Wainaina, a provost at the All Saints Cathedral who has been conducting weddings for the last 21 years.
Others keen on formalising their marriages without the hassle of church nuptials prefer to wed at the Attorney-General’s chambers, which is the cheaper route when the overall costs are factored in.
“Parties pay Sh1,400 (Sh600 for notice and Sh800 afterwards) to get married in church and Sh3,900 (Sh600 for notice and Sh3,300 afterwards) to get married in the Registrar of Marriages office,” Mr George Gachihi, the Deputy Registrar of Marriages, told the Sunday Nation.
Because of other charges like booking the church, feeding attendants and paying the clergyperson, wedding at the altar is bound to cost more and civil marriages have become an option for many.
Wedding statistics for Nairobi County show that for every three weddings that happen in a church, one takes place at the Registrar of Marriages.
The number of civil weddings in Nairobi rose slightly from 2,714 in 2015 to 2,757 last year, according to data from the Registrar of Marriages.
Christian weddings however took the lion’s share during that time, with 8,000 having been conducted in 2015 and 9,300 last year.
The Mwiki couple could well be among the 400 Christian marriages that happened in Nairobi in January, but their wedding grabbed local and international headlines because of its frugality.
Mr Wilson Mutura and his wife Anne Wambui, according to their pastor Jasper Ojwach, were so determined to hold a wedding that he just had to grant their wish without them wearing special clothes, without a best man and maid, without any food for guests and bereft of much fanfare.
The pastor promised to cater for all the costs that would go into making the marriage recognised in law, and in the end, the Muturas made a statement that a person needs not break a bank for them to be considered legally married.
“As long as you can meet the legal requirements, the rest is a matter of preferences and affordability,” says Ms Ann Njogu, the lead wedding planner at Ann Njogu Weddings and Events.
In fact, expensive marriages have been found to last shorter than cheaper ones by one scientific study.
The 2014 research covering 3,151 adults in the United States, had interesting findings.
It showed that women whose wedding cost more than Sh2 million were 1.6 times more likely to divorce than those whose wedding cost between Sh500,000 and Sh1 million.
Those who spent Sh100,000 and below, the findings said, had a lower than average rate of divorce.
Reacting to the findings, Ms Njogu said the price tag could not necessarily be the problem.
“It is not the cost of the wedding that causes higher chances of a breakup. It is because the more costly the wedding, the more the decisions to be made.
“Most of the time, a wedding is the first project that most couples get to work on together.
“During the planning period, a lot of things in their relationship are put to test, like their dispute resolutions mechanisms, their ability to compromise, their personality differences among others,” she said.
Mrs Sylvie Alemba, who runs Tie the Knot Wedding Planner in Nairobi, said what makes most weddings costly is the desire to outdo others.
“One of the things I try telling people is: look at the budget you have. With the budget you have, you can do any kind of wedding,” said Mrs Alemba, who is also a marriage counsellor.
Most costs of a wedding, she said, go to the venue, the food among others.
“With Sh300,000, you can do something unique, but it all depends on how many people are invited,” she said.
According to weddingbudget.co.ke, which has an online tool for projecting the cost of a wedding, the expenses that will confront a couple during a wedding include catering, the wedding cake, flowers and the décor, photography and videography, the venue, preparation of wedding invites and programmes, tents, the bride’s wedding gown and the groom’s suit, transport, entertainment and chairs.
Meeting such costs is a tall order for many, which has made the often-disliked wedding fundraising committees and wedding WhatsApp groups a common phenomenon.
One element that is gaining prominence is that of the couple dictating which items should be brought as gifts, an idea Canon Wainaina faulted.
“If you want to give me a gift, you shouldn’t tell me which one. We are over-commercialising weddings. That is why the names of those wedding sometimes matter more than the marriage they will be in,” he said.
But such costs never seem an issue to everybody as there have been very lavish weddings held in Kenya and elsewhere in the globe.
In the US for instance, it is estimated that weddings cost an average of $26,645 (Sh2.7 million) according to costofwedding.com.
“But most couples spend less than $10,000 (Sh1 million). This does not include the cost for a honeymoon,” the website says.
In the United Kingdom, a poll by confetti.co.uk showed that most people spend between £5,000 (Sh645,479) and £10,000 (Sh1.3 million) on their weddings in 2015.
The figures for Kenya are hard to come by, but according to Ms Njogu, it could be anything from Sh1,400 (the figure required to make it legally binding).
Asked if there is such a thing as an extravagant wedding, she replied: “Extravagance is spending what you do not have. If you have gone into debt because of the wedding, then you were extravagant.
“Extravagance is not measured in terms of how much was spent. There are people who have spent millions in their wedding because they could afford it!”
One commonly overpriced item, Mrs Alemba said, is photography.
“People are paying Sh500,000 for pictures of I don’t know what kind. And if you go look at the albums, they are doing nothing great; itis just a bag of tricks,” she said.
Ms Njogu noted that from her experience, August is the month that most Kenyans prefer to wed, followed by December.
“Most people make the decision to marry early in the year and so with the planning time required, they find themselves settling for a wedding in the last quarter of the year,” she said.
And while everyone is seeking to have a better wedding than the last, the people who are feeling the pinch are the youth, according to Canon Wainaina.
He said the church needs to look for ways of cushioning them against high costs. “Let young people not get into debt,” he said.