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Do Ghanaian Men Have a ‘Renters Mentality When It Comes to Marriage?

“Now you are married to somebody… and you’ve put your name on her, she’s called ‘Mrs your name’. That’s a serious responsibility when somebody is called ‘your name’. You’ve overthrown her father, and you’ve taken her father’s place, so, you got to behave seriously. I mean somebody’s life investment has been put in your hands. Don’t take it easily. Don’t just say: ‘You are my wife’. Do you know what it means? It means you are going to share your money”. – Dr. Mensa Otabil


Dr. Mensa Otabil is a theologian, philanthropist and founder of International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). I have never attended his church, but snippets from his leaked sermons online are generally well received by the general public, including me. He is a fair-minded man and politically non-partisan, if the re-shares on Facebook are to be believed. His expressed opinions on gender roles in the African and/or Judeo-Christian context constitute a revival of outlooks that were far more egalitarian two centuries ago than they are today. (I’ve written previously about the myriad and diverse freedoms and opportunities that our female ancestors enjoyed prior to contact with and domination by the Europeans. If you can’t find the post here, look for that evidence in a book or two.) So when I saw this quote attributed to him, I was understandably unsettled, as were many women who believe in the cause of social equality between the sexes.

I have struggled in vain to gain access to the entirety of this speech so that it can be put into context. I do not believe Dr. Otabil to same sort of backward woman-bashing, slam-you-over-the-head-with-a-Bible misogynist as Dag Heward-Mills or his spiritual father, Duncan Williams are. I expect this sort of talk from that pair and all whole harken to their insidious views. Dr. Otabil, however, has earned the benefit of further scrutiny, and I am eager to find out exactly WHAT he means by “you have overthrown her father and have taken her father’s place…”

To the casual male observer, there’s nothing wrong with this Otabil quote, even without context. According to the comments I’ve been privy to, this is just about a woman taking a man’s name after marriage and therefore no fuss is required. Feminists are just angry feminizing once again!

But as a WOMAN, a CHRISTIAN and a HUMAN BEING, I find this postulation quite disturbing. Dr. Otabil – who is clearly addressing men either in mixed company or exclusively, we don’t know – talks about the union between man and wife as an “investment”.

  • A woman is another man’s life investment and has been “put into your hands.”: This strips women – adults who have chosen their life partners – of their agency. They are objects to be handed over from man to the next.
  • You’ve overthrown her father and taken her father’s place: Again presenting the idea that a woman’s body is something captured and possessed, like some ancient city in the Middle East.
  • Don’t just say: ‘You are my wife’. Do you know what it means? It means you are going to share your money.: I want to believe that Dr. Otabil did not just equate the spiritual union between man and woman witnessed before God and man as a pyramid scheme!

“You are my wife” means you are going to share your money? Like a director in an Amway tier? Yesu the Messiah just come now on a cloud and take us all out of here!

It’s obvious why any (perceptive) woman would take umbrage with these utterances. Once again, we’ve been reduced to chattel, or jewels, or whatever inanimate object men must equate us to in order to assess value. You know, because our humanity is never enough. But for the sake of the metaphor and nothing else, therein lies my question to men:

Do you take a renter’s mentality when approaching the foundation of your marriage?

Mensa Otabil exhorts men to act more responsibly towards their wives because they have taken their surnames. She is no longer identified as herself – as an individual -or her father’s child, now that she has YOUR name. If she were a city, she’d be Kofi Town (or whatever).

There are several studies that show a stark difference in human behavior when people are given charge over something rented or worked to gain ownership of. The behavior is entirely different.

When you rent a tux for an event, you’re not concerned about if you spill tartar sauce on the lapels because you can get it dry cleaned, send it back to the rental company, and let the next guy deal with the stains you unsuccessfully tried to have washed out. But when that’s your ONLY tux that you bought and paid for, that you’ve worn on one happy occasion after another, you’re more observant about how you handle food around it. Because at the end of the day, it’s coming back home with you to hang in your closet. Same thing goes with car and home rentals. Many people are less concerned about the damage caused to the property because it’s someone else’s possession and in the long run, the damage done is not really their problem.

This is the renter’s mentality that allows certain Ghanaian men to banish their wives back to their father’s house when he’s done using her up because of *insert nonsensical culturally irrelevant reason here*

But, let’s be honest. Didn’t merely reading those scenarios make you feel slimy? Would you want anyone to describe you as a car, or a two-bedroom house, or a Jeep or any of the tired metaphors employed to determine what a woman reminds you of? Why does it take any of that to see Akosua/Patricia/Your Wife’s Name for who she is?

Do you have to own your wife to honor her and take responsibility in and for your marriage?


This article has 5 comments

  1. Kokor

    This year i attended a marriage submit in Accra-Ghana. One of the main speakers was Pastor Mensa Otabil. Listening to him carefully (and over the years), i doubt if he will make such a statement without an appropriate explanation to it. I’m sure he was taken out of context. Even though you have said that “I have struggled in vain to gain access to the entirety of this speech so that it can be put into context’. I think you shouldn’t have included that bit knowing you have a truncated message. I am a faithful fan of yours and this is my sincere opinion. Maybe you could have published this message without including him, since we do not have the whole context. Cheers!

    Keep writing.

    • Malaka

      His quote has been shared all over Facebook and is being used by sexists to justify their warped positions. I think it is important that we look at it as Dr. Otabil’s words, since he’s held in such high regard in general. I don’t see how attributing his words to him personally – in context or not- is problematic.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. readinpleasure

    Reading your post, dear Malaka, I can understand your feelings completely. But I believe Otabil’s statements might just not ring foul as we would want to think for the following reasons:

    A woman is another man’s life investment and has been “put into your hands.”: In Ghana I have heard more than upteenth time this saying. We do believe that educating and bringing up our children, male or female is an investment that we might reap in future when we are old. In our pension years, our children, if we have invested in them properly might take care of us, supplementing our meager pension or just remitting us. This could be erroneous, but it is a fact. The above statement may simply mean that a father has invested in the daughter and now she has been put in her husband’s hands for him to treat well. (transliteration, I guess) ‘Yede no ashe wo nsa’ ‘shwe ne so yie.’

    You’ve overthrown her father and taken her father’s place: This could simply mean that the husband has taken the place of the father as a provider. Again, the traditional and yes modern notion of the man as the provider of/for the home. Overthrown could be an unfortunate word, but it could have been said with humour, to create humour.

    Don’t just say: ‘You are my wife’. Do you know what it means? It means you are going to share your money.: Again, humour. Yes, once you marry, you share with your partner, including your money. Some men obviously overlook this fact and I see Otabil stressing on this to make them aware so as not to be stingy with their wives.

    I am not holding brief for Otabil, Malaka. This speech pattern is more Ghanaian English than anything else. I also believe Otabil is more sensitive to women than his speech may have wanted us to believe. (mind you I am a Presbyterian. I do not worship at ICGC 🙂 )

    My humble thoughts.

    • Malaka

      Thanks for your perspective, C! All of this is entirely possible. If that’s what he intended, great! These are the dangers of people plucking a block of conversation and transmitting it, particularly when we’re dealing with something as sensitive as rights of a sentient being, in this case, women.
      If this is Otabil’s brand of humor it’d be nice to see it play out entirely. It still begs the question “Do men feel like they need to own a woman to respect her as a wife?”
      What if you are married and don’t share the same surname? Is the sharing of a surname the seal to the world and yourself that this is your wife?
      Marriages are not healthy in Ghana because people do not ask questions.

      • readinpleasure

        Agreed. We the women too we crave the Mrs. so much I tell you. We love it when we are called Mrs. so and so, flouting the rings on our fingers at the least opportunity. I use my husband’s surname without adding the Mrs. I use it because marriage under the ordinance allows me to use it. But it is not a label for crying out aloud. I am my own woman with or without his name tagging along mine.

        But you see society has made it so; the Ghanaian society I mean. We do not ask questions because we do not want to be seem to be rocking the boat. If a woman is desperate to get married for various reasons, questioning the status quo is the least of her worries once she is married. And trust me, there are lots of our Ghanaian women desperate to get married no matter what they may say.

        About men feeling they need to own a woman. It’s all education, values and orientation and tradition. I always ask this question? Who is the mother of the man? Women! I am a mother of three boys and I am always hammering it down how they should treat women; no bad mouthing a girl in my presence; no insulting words etc. We could go on and on, Malaka. We need to start from the scratch because the traditions have been ingrained in us so much the change, if it will come may be herculean. 🙂

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