One of the hazards of being young, African and looking to marry is navigating the minefield of bride price, a custom that is almost universal in African cultures all across the continent, although an increasing number of families today shun it.
For men, it could well be one of the most stressful days of your life, as elders from the girl’s family grill, harass and badger you with all the zeal of a Guantanamo Bay interrogator, with the intent of extracting as much money from you as possible.
And, sometimes, just for the joy of embarrassing and beating you down—letting go of a daughter is not always easy, so just as well.
For women, the day is filled with anxiety, wondering if your fiancé will make it alive from the lions’ den. It’s supposed to be done in good faith and as a token of appreciation to the girl’s parents, but many a modern folktale features a long-lost aunt crawling from the woodwork, threatening to stop the ceremony on the wedding day.
Her cooperation can only be bought with cold, hard cash.
But in testament to Africa’s turning to technology to solve uniquely African problems, developers in Nigeria have launched a Bride Price App that calculates how much a groom is likely to be charged as bride price, taking into account several characteristics of the girl including her height, weight, physical beauty (white teeth with gap is the most desired), accent (more points for a British or “Americana proper” accent) education level and cooking skills.
It’s obviously done tongue-in-cheek—the app predicts you are likely to be charged Nigerian Naira (N) 40,000 less if the girl has “Ronaldinho” teeth, and N.10,000 less if all she can cook is a boiled egg—but not everyone is finding it funny.
An online petition has been started by a Nigerian living in the UK demanding the app be pulled down, arguing that it is misogynistic, racist and promotes the objectification of women.
But looking closely at the parameters actually reveals real progress in the status of women and the difficulties they still face in mostly patriarchal Africa —the illiterate, stay-at-home rural woman is no longer ideal “wife material”.
For example, education in girls now commands a premium. If she has no education “at-all-at-all” the asking price is cut by N.100,000, and every increasing level of education raises the price too.
However, there is a caveat, although a girl with a Masters degree gets a price of N.100,000, getting a Ph.D. actually cuts the price by N.50,000, showing that although educated girls are valued, too much reduces their desirability; it seems men are still intimidated by the highest achieving women.
Working women also get a higher asking price, particularly if working in oil and gas (+N.100,000), medicine (+N.50,000) or banking (+N.40,000), but no points for being unemployed.
Concept of beauty
The app also reveals how the concept of beauty is changing in urban Africa, thanks (again) to Kenya’s Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o’s runaway success; a girl with “Lupita” (i.e. dark and smooth) skin gets the same asking price as a mixed race girl, and more than a light-skinned girl. Artificially lightening the skin, though, will reduce the girl’s desirability, dropping the asking price by N.50,000.
The app is just one of the emerging technologies that Africans are deploying to comment on or lampoon the challenges of living in modern Africa.
In Kenya, for example, police in Nairobi have been using a breathalyzer, commonly known as Alcoblow, to catch drunk drivers on their way home from the club. But because of the high citizen to police ratio, they can’t be on all roads every night.
So a Twitter handle @AlcoblowWatch, with over 10,000 followers to-date, gives updates on where the police are stationed on any given night, which gives partygoers the chance to find an alternate route home. It’s an undesirable situation in the first place—drunk driving should always be discouraged, unequivocally—but, well, drunkards will be innovative drunkards.
Now hoping that someone can develop a “Husband App” as well.