Concerned husband: How much dowry is enough?


I received this email from a concerned husband:

“I have been in a come-we-stay marriage for six years. My wife and I met at a private university and dated for the duration of our studies before we started living together. We have two children.

“Recently, I went to her parents to start the process of formalising our union, but what I was told has left me in shock. Her family demanded an unattainable target as dowry before they officially recognise me as their son-in-law. Their main argument was that her parents spent a lot of money to educate her in private schools and universities.

Is their argument fair, bearing in mind that my parents also spent a lot of money to see me through private university? In all fairness, I don’t think Sh1 million, is realistic. Please advise me on how to lower this to around Sh300,000.”

I advise parents to think of the future when dealing with their future sons-in-law. The man, according to our African tradition, is supposed to take care of his wife and children. By ‘bankrupting’ him using the excuse of brideprice, they deny the couple a solid financial footing and plant seeds of resentment in the relationship.

They should look at their daughter’s husband as an additional son. The marriage should be the beginning of a long relationship that will include financial assistance as long as the new son is alive.

For example, if the parents tell their son-in-law that they are not ‘selling’ their daughter, but because tradition requires that he gives a token of appreciation, they suggest a modest sum, such as six heads of cattle worth around Sh30,000 each, the dowry will come to Sh180,000.

Once the negotiations are over, everyone is happy. If, say, three years later, the father-in-law is admitted to hospital and incurs a bill of Sh100,000, the son-in-law will help to clear this amount without thinking twice.

Imagine if he had concluded the dowry negotiations feeling ripped off; he is unlikely to be concerned about his father-in-law. And if the sickness claims the old man, the son-in-law is likely to attend the funeral as a visitor, having not participated in its planning.

So, parents, dowry negotiations are not the time to put down your future son-in-law. Actually, it is the time to nurture a strong relationship with him.

Going back to the question, my advice is to get a friend who is blessed with negotiation skills.

Start by clearly explaining to the negotiating team that the money they are asking for is too much as you need to plan for your family’s future. Tactfully tell them that you, too, went through private schools, and that your parents went through hard times raising the fees (and that is why you understand where they are coming from).

Then suggest, “In all fairness, my token to this family for giving me a wife is Sh200,000)…” I quote this figure so that when you engage in the negotiations, you can raise it, bit by bit, to your planned Sh300,000.

Your team’s negotiator should remind them that the union of the families is not about the money being discussed, but for a permanent relationship. Besides, dowry is not a one-time affair. People ‘pay’ it for even 20 years!

If none of your friends has these skills, I advise you to hire one. There are people in this country who are master negotiators. You start by negotiating the fee you will pay him. Once you agree, then you are good to go. Good luck.