Ugandan weddings are an expression of who we are as a people; generous, loud and joyful. They are rarely about the couple or even the two families being united, but they are a communal responsibility. Here friends, clansmen, village mates and colleagues are expected to contribute selflessly.
This is how two young people who make a collective salary of Shs24m a year can pull off a wedding of Shs100m. This was, until Covid-19 struck and President Yoweri Museveni banned what he referred to as “the hexagonal, extravagant Ugandan-style weddings”.
Enock Musasizi Kazimba, a flight instructor and Josephine Babirye had an initial budget of Shs90m and a guest list of 300 people for their wedding that had been scheduled for April. But then Musasizi’s father was elected and installed Archbishop of Church of Uganda. Their plans had changed and adjustments had to be made. After the installation of his father, Musasizi and Babirye’s guest list rose from 300 to 1,000 guests.
Little did they know that more uncontrollable events were about to happen.
“Then the lockdown happened and there were government restrictions on public gatherings. We revised our budget to Shs15m. The committee members struggled to come to terms with the new reality. With 10 people, most of our family and friends would not be able to attend. But since we did not want to cancel the wedding, we just went ahead and wedded scientifically,” he says.
The couple exchanged vows in the presence of Bishop Wilberforce Kityo-Luwalira at Namirembe Cathedral on April 18.
Then, two months to the wedding of Malik Adam Masiko and Evelyn Nambooze slated for May 23, Nambooze felt the need to hold preparation meetings. They had not foreseen the lockdown.
“The first time they announced a lockdown, I took it lightly hoping that it would be lifted by May,” Masiko recalls.
He had always looked forward to his wedding day because it would bring his family together. Nambooze says their relatives were fine with a scientific wedding.
“I sent messages to different family members who also supported the idea and three weeks to the wedding, we revised our budget from Shs56m to Shs2m,” she says. The couple resolved to reduce their expenditure.
“We had to do away with most of the things such as the decoration, cake, make-up, and invitation cards. Unfortunately, we had already deposited a non-refundable Shs2.5m at UMA hall, Lugogo, our reception venue,” Masiko explains.
Masiko and his bestman rummaged through their wardrobe for a suit. Unlike them, Nambooze says her gown had already been catered for by her mother-in-law. Drawing the guest list complicated the process. At church, only 10 people were to attend, and only 15 were allowed to their reception at Rivonia Hotel, Mbuya. That was not enough, “We planned to have lunch with seven people from each of our families after church. This cost Shs600,000 and I deposited Shs400, 000, but to our surprise 25 guests came. I had to pay an extra Shs400, 000”.
Is Uganda ready for this trend?
Richard Kawesa, a mindset and change management specialist, observes that scientific weddings are an idea of the western world where few people participate in organising the function and even fewer attend. The cost of the wedding is typically expected to be borne by the principal parties involved, that is bride and groom supported by their immediate families and a few friends.
He notes that hexagonal weddings are structured the way they are due to the communal mindset of African society. It is a long established Ugandan and African culture that children are raised by the village and that is why every milestone is celebrated communally.
“Every individual connected to you in some way expects an invitation to your wedding as an expression of your appreciation to them. From your kindergarten teacher to the LC1 chairman who has stamped your document. Also the more people one is able to attract to their function, the more respect he/she commands in the community,” says Kawesa.
Drake Semanda, a writer and actor, thinks that scientific weddings are not something Ugandans are likely to embrace easily.
“Many will argue that it is not a real wedding. If we were already struggling with the whole idea of civil marriages, then what about the scientific ones now? They are budget friendly. We Ugandans have a different idea of what it means to have a wedding. You have your friends, family and the children playing around; that is our idea of a wedding. I understand it comes at a cost but that is the reason we have wedding meetings, to make people a part of your celebration. If you don’t invite them, they ask why. A wedding is also for friends and family ,” Semanda argues.
Caroline Kyasiimire, a social scientist, notes that it will take long for people to adapt to scientific weddings, especially because they take out the extra excitement and celebration that comes from a crowd of people expressing their well-wishes and merrymaking.
“If you have enough savings; well, the traditional celebration should be preferred so that you get to celebrate with everyone around you. However, if finances have to be sourced through contributions, then the simpler the better, go scientific and everyone will still celebrate with you,” she argues.
She says scientific wedding kills the cultural aspect arguing that as families come together, there is happiness, food, entertainment and rituals.
Alfred Okello- Oryem, a lawyer, argues that there is no way one can ably hit a middle ground with social and business integration as a major benefit of weddings.
“I prefer a moderate wedding that is in the region of Shs30m max. For that amount, you can do a high class scientific or a fair hexagonal. What I don’t support is the crazy weddings that leave you in debt and a reputation you cannot sustain,” Okello- Oryem he observes.
Although scientific weddings have their advantages, Richard Tuwangye, a professional MC, says they are unlikely to gain popularity in Uganda. “If we factor in the evolution of these Ugandan weddings, we are going to need a major mindset shift. The smallest wedding I have been an MC at had 36 guests. If I were to do my wedding again, I would strive for a balance between scientific and hexagonal,” he adds.
Some service providers have not been left the same. Tuwangye says the hexagonal concept is great business for service providers. Decorators, outside catering businesses earn big. They would be the biggest losers if Ugandans embraced the scientific weddings.
Cissy Tendo Najjingo, a make-up artist, says since the lockdown she has lost a number of clients, some of whom have cancelled their weddings yet four of her other clients decided to go for the scientific weddings. “I must admit that before the lockdown business was good and almost every weekend I had two brides to work on, expecting between shs600, 000 and shs800, 000 but today it is impossible,” Najjingo laments.
Sarah Namusoke of Sarah’s Bridals says even before the lockdown business was not doing well. However, due to the pandemic and president’s directive and a ban on public gatherings, especially weddings and introductions:
“I have been affected as the clients who had booked bridal items changed their minds. A bride that was to take a gown and probably two changing dresses and the maid ends up taking only the gown,” Namusoke discloses.
Like Najjingo, she is worried about scientific weddings where people can do away with the entourage.
Meanwhile Doreen Azaninka , a decorator at Azani Events, doubts that business will remain the same with scientific weddings. When it is only a few people, especially during the wedding, the bride and groom are most likely to invite their guests to a small dinner at a hotel which will not require any decoration.
Brian Lugali, a wedding photo and videographer, feels that what he thought was a recession-free industry has taken a different path.
He says the wedding industry has been drastically hit by the coronavirus impact and wonders if business will remain the same thereafter.
“Banquet halls were ordered to not host any public events.”
He hopes one day, they shall get back to offering full package business but it might not be business as usual. “In case society adopts the scientific wedding, that means the function for which I was charging Shs5m will go for less than that. This is because when costing, I consider the number of people,” he explains.
Simon Kaheru, head of communications at Coca-Cola
We lost focus by going for flashy weddings instead of cementing the relationship between the two families. He adds that the new scientific weddings should allow ‘us’ to go back to the reason for the union and work more at the background work that allows marriages to last longer.
Bridget Mutumba, a communication enthusiast
Wedding strengthens social ties between people who take long to see and interact with one another.
“Culturally, in Uganda and Africa, the reality is merrymaking is about everyone. Small crowds are a western thing. In Africa, introductions are everyone’s business. That is why there are no invitation cards in the first place because it takes a village to raise a child.”
-Additional information by Phionah Nassanga