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Social class: Kayole men cannot marry chics from Muthaiga unless he makes more money

By Brian Guserwa | December 10th 2020

The rich almost always marry the rich. There is a sub-culture within the upper class  where they go out and settle down with their own clique, rarely allowing the lower classes to break into their exclusive circles. Like a dude from Kayole trying to date and marry Ngina Kenyatta - the First Daughter. Tough luck!

Indeed, when Ngina’s elder brother married in 2016, his choice was Fiona Achola - scion of the Omamos and whose patriarch was politician William Odongo Omamo.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in the rare cases when cross-cultural unions happen, they make the news: The late Keroche heiress Tecra Muigai and her lover and fiancé, Omar Lali, were subjected to the worst kind of scrutiny when she died in May this year. The conclusion arrived at was that, Lali, a coxswain, could only have been there for her quid.

There is the tendency to fit people neatly into boxes, be it tribal or social, and this carries on into our relationships and marriages where someone’s class and prospects thereof, have a bearing on how affairs play out: Muthaiga is across Thika Road from Mathare Valley, but near zero chances that Miss Mathare can catch the eye of a love-starved bloke in Muthaiga.

And while women sometimes hack it marrying upwards, it’s harder for men from the bottom drawer classes to sit at the table of men in elite circles through marriage.

Indeed, dating someone from a different social class is often a challenging affair. Take the experience of Elvis Luvira, a 24-year-old economist in Nairobi.

“I once dated a girl from a well-off family. Everything we did felt like it was meant for Instagram. She would take trips to Nanyuki or Mombasa on a whim. She never spent weekends in the house. I come from a simple background, and it was always uncomfortable for me. My idea of fun was something quiet at home, like a movie, but I was too embarrassed to even bring it up. I loved her, but I knew we would never work out.”

While dating goes up to a certain point when folks, mostly of the richer party, don’t know how far one is down dating, the same is not the case in a marriage set up. Social class may seem like a small issue, but it informs how the couple views finances, investments, education, friends, extended family and even lifestyle. More often than not, this gap is too big to bridge.

“In any marriage, you’re getting together with someone who is very different from you, they have a different upbringing and culture from you,” says Dr Taji Shivachi, a sociology lecturer at Rongo University.
“If you can disagree with siblings with whom you’ve grown up, how about that stranger you met when you were both adults?” he poses.

These differences come out in many ways, from arguing about which part of the toothpaste to squeeze, to spending money. All these perspectives come about depending on how you were raised, and your social class.
Dr Shivachi admits that social class plays a huge role in the power dynamics within a marriage.

“Social class only becomes a problem in terms of self-security, especially for men. It’s about power systems, the balance of power within the marriage. Power follows money. When you have money, power comes with it.
“Men will feel insecure when they marry someone who has more money and therefore more power,” he explains, adding that “it’s not about provision; provision is about what you can afford vis-à-vis what you think you can afford and what your peers can afford. The balance of power is a bigger concern for men.”

It is always advisable, according to Dr Shivachi, to marry as close to your social class as possible.
“As a man, marry from your own class or lower. Marrying upwards is always a big challenge for men. It’s very difficult to adjust to it, unless you find a way of making more money than your spouse, or finding another way of achieving superiority over your spouse,” says Dr Shivachi.

He reckons that if a man marries a woman with more money, then ensure you’re a step further in something else.
“Like have more education which gives you some superiority. Or get into politics and become a leader, so that even if your wife has more money, you have more power. Otherwise, the power dynamics will be challenging to navigate within the relationship,” he says.

The pressure to marry well is often transferred down from parents who, “would prefer their daughter to marry someone who is better off, someone from a higher social class, but are uncomfortable with their son marrying from a higher class. They know the implications. They know their son might be subjected to some form of control or suffer inferiority complex.”

Dr Shivachi adds: “It is not desirable for your child to marry downwards. Even as parents, you want to move in the same circles. You want your child to be seen to be doing well by marrying someone who is doing well. Everybody likes to brag about their children.”

Indeed, it is harder for men to deal with the gulf in class for men than it is for women. Men have a bigger ego, while women are more willing to learn and settle.

Benjamin Zulu, a counseling therapist and motivational speaker, sees social class as a big consideration for who you date, but he believes it is not too big a problem as, “It’s better to marry from your own class to avoid incompatibility and culture shock.”

Zulu explains that, “some people are socially trained for survival. In upper classes, there is a culture of inheritance, while lower classes, there is only survival. The culture of saving and building a business empire is very rich up there. In lower classes, people have to teach themselves that, since they did not see it growing up.”

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