Weddings across much of Africa are typically lavish events filled with hundreds of people. But with social distancing, limits on guests, and financial pressures, this year just wasn’t the same for brides and grooms.
Weddings in Africa are a huge event in many countries. Families of the happy couple are expected to plan for months to throw an elaborate ceremony for hundreds of guests with mountains of food and live music, regardless of their financial status.
There are also often two ceremonies: the traditional one followed by a Western church wedding, which drives the cost up even more.
But the coronavirus has put a damper on the wedding expectations of many Africans.
During the pandemic’s peak, a swath of African countries limited the number of people who could gather for social events. At the same time, the restrictions hit families financially.
Nigerian weddings limited to 50 people
In March, Nigeria restricted social gatherings at events such as weddings to no more than 50 people under measures that are still in place.
For Nigerian Adeola Denis Ojo and his fiancee, celebrating their wedding with so few guests was not an option.
“We had planned our wedding and had already bought the rice for it,” Ojo, a security guard in Abuja, told DW. “But we had to postpone the wedding until December 28,” adding that his fiancee was very disappointed.
Ojo is now worried that he might not be able to afford the December wedding after all, as food prices have skyrocketed in Nigeria during the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic also changed the wedding plans of Simon Daniel Chang from Kano in northwest Nigeria.
Chang ended up getting married in November after postponing his wedding for seven months. “I asked my family and my fiancee to understand that it was due to the situation,” he told DW. But he lost his job as an engineer because of the pandemic, and his new job in retail pays less. As a result, he had less to spend on the wedding.
Families face financial constraints
In Nigeria, it’s traditional for the groom’s family to pay a bride price, or a dowry for the bride, to their future in-laws. The payment can be made up of money, presents, or both — and can cost up to several thousand euros.
The bride’s father is responsible for buying everything the newlyweds might need to move into their own home – from knives and forks to a sofa and the matrimonial bed.
“The economic difficulties associated with COVID-19 make it very difficult for us, the parents, to meet these traditional requirements because our income has been reduced by this pandemic,” Mallam Kabiru Sani from Nigeria told DW.
But this is still no excuse to break with the cultural practice, Sani believes, adding that “those who do not follow tradition are making themselves and the bride ridiculous in the eyes of the people.”
Traders suffer from postponed weddings
Weddings are also important for a very unromantic reason. Big-budget weddings can have a rippling effect across economies, from caterers and makeup artists to venue providers and photographers.
In Kenya, traders relying on Kenya’s wedding industry were particularly hard hit. For months, strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as banning travel between counties, introducing a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and severely limited social gatherings, made it difficult even to hold small-scale weddings.
“Most of our distributors are experiencing difficulties,” said Kenyan wedding planner Wanjira Kago from the Nairobi-based company Weddings And More.
“Venues have had to close because they haven’t done any business for the year. Vendors have had to diversify their livelihoods, and catering services used to cater to weddings are now delivering food to offices.”
Although the government lifted these restrictions at the end of September, and 200 guests are allowed at weddings, Kago doesn’t expect Kenya’s wedding industry to return to normal any time soon.
As in Nigeria, the cost of food in Kenya has shot up, driving up the price of functions and cutting vendors’ profit margins. Having to disinfect function rooms and equipment also adds to the cost.
But for Kago, the main issue is that people are putting their weddings on hold until they can invite their family, relatives, and friends for a huge wedding as is customary.
“We are Africans; we celebrate big weddings,” he told DW. “Because that’s who we are. We just like big parties.”
This article was adapted from German by Kate Hairsine.