Nigerian academic and naturalized American citizen has written a book to
advise his fellow immigrants in the United States about how to avoid divorce.
Dr. Ernest Ndukwe says moving to the US from Africa often places great strain
on a marriage. He’s done intensive research into the factors leading to the
breakdown of Africans’ relationships in the United States. Dr. Ndukwe’s book
offers reasons for what the academic describes as a “divorce plague” among his
fellow African immigrants in the US. In the third part of a series on
informative books by Africans, VOA takes a look at the publication, entitled Is
Marriage Doomed in America?
With an academic background in geology and environmental
studies, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe readily acknowledges that he isn’t a likely
candidate to pen a book on divorce. Nevertheless, having himself endured a
separation three years ago, and being convinced that the experience of being an
immigrant to the US contributed greatly to the failure of his marriage,
Ndukwe’s convinced he’s qualified to write on the subject.
“Thousands of books have been written about divorce,” says
the part-time lecturer at various American academic institutions, “but during
my research I realized that very few have been written about the unique
stresses and strains that the marriages of immigrants – and especially Africans
– suffer when they settle in the United States. I have tried to fill part of
Ndukwe’s also a senior environmental quality analyst at
the State of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. He arrived in the
US in 1977 and married in 1999. The union ended six years later but produced
three daughters. Ndukwe says they, and another daughter from a previous
relationship, provided further motivation for his book.
now, (my kids) are still very young, ranging from five to ten years old. I had
to write this book because I wanted my children to know what happened.
Eventually when they grow up and they’re able to read and understand, I wanted
them to know what happened between me and their mother,” Ndukwe says, and then
explains further, “When a four-year-old kid is saying ‘Dad, why don’t you love
me?’ it really hurts. That’s one of the main reasons I wrote the book – not to
attack their mother, but to try to explain that when people get divorced, it’s
not because they don’t love their children. It’s because they themselves can no
longer get along.”
who grew up in the district of Onitsha in south-eastern Nigeria’s Anambra
State, emphasizes repeatedly that he didn’t write the book in order to “take
revenge” on his former spouse.
really have no bitterness…. I wrote the book not from a selfish point of view….
I wrote it in an attempt to make people understand the reasons why two people
who are from other countries come to the US and then begin to grow apart, for
various reasons. Immigrating to a new country, and adapting to a totally new
culture, is very traumatic and sometimes marriages do not survive that trauma,”
regards divorce rates among immigrants in the US, and especially Africans,
Ndukwe says the news is “not really very encouraging…. Their divorce rate is
Africans in US don’t have family support
says very few Africans are comfortable with discussing divorce, which is
“highly stigmatized” across his home continent.
the cultural background that I come from, divorce is not something that anyone
really talks about. It’s very, very rare (in Africa),” he maintains. “Over
there in Nigeria (and in many other parts of Africa), people will do just about
anything possible to make sure that divorce doesn’t happen.”
says Ndukwe, this “saving of collapsing relationships” is undertaken not by
registered marriage counselors, as in the US, but by family members who “lend
support and do their best to mediate between the spouses.”
immigrants in America don’t have access to their extended families, and so he
says “everything breaks down and divorce is often inevitable.”
knows what he’s speaking about. He has eight brothers and sisters and what he
calls a “massive” extended family.
from such a large family is something that as an African I cherish. This is
something that I value immensely, and it’s helped me through dark periods in my
life, having the support of my brothers and sisters. But when my wife and I
moved to the US, we could no longer count on this. This, I believe, was a major
factor in the breakdown of our marriage.”
says divorce is “very easy” in the US, compared to Africa, and this also
contributes towards rising incidences of official separation among immigrants
in the US.
Africa, it takes a long time for someone to organize and go through a divorce.
Over here, someone quickly runs to a lawyer, hands over money, and gets a piece
of paper and next thing you know, you are in court and your family is breaking
explains further that the scenario in America, with both spouses often having
to work in order to “just make basic ends meet,” also contributes to divorce
among African immigrants in the US.
have the husband and the wife working, and they have to work so they can make a
living to support their family. Many times the (immigrant) families don’t have
the luxury for just one person to work. That creates a lot of pressure, a lot
of stress, on the families,” he says.
Africa, the wife (mostly) stays at home, makes a home and looks after the
kids…. Things are more stable, and marriages survive more.”
In the United States, the family unit is often forced to
split up because of “necessity for economic survival,” Ndukwe says, and
babysitters take care of small children until they’re ready to go to school.
“Africans find this situation very difficult to deal with,
and they often think they are failing their family, and it leads to the parents
fighting all the time and eventually divorcing,” he explains.
Greed and money
For his book, Ndukwe researched marriage and divorce among
immigrants in the US from all parts of Africa, but says he “naturally”
concentrated on Nigerians living here.
says, “Based on what I studied, Nigeria has one of the highest divorce rates
among all the immigrants in America.”
thinks Nigerians especially seem to “really mourn the loss of their culture and
are really affected by it and their marriages deteriorate.”
he also suggests other reasons for a particularly high rate of divorce among
Nigerians in the United States.
Greed,” he states emphatically. He says Nigerians in particular seem “very
attracted by the materialistic side of American culture…. They seem more
mercenary than others, placing higher value on money.”
in the US, Ndukwe asserts, are especially prone to falling into what he calls
the “trap of materialism.”
research shows that greed is a major reason why immigrants divorce. In Africa,
while materialism is definitely growing, it is not even close to what it is in
America. Some Africans…are greedy. They take their eyes away from the essence
of marriage, and they put their eyes on materialism and material things.”
Ndukwe also takes note of the “cultural habit” among
African men living in the US returning to their home countries to marry someone
there and then immediately returning with their new wives. This, he says, also
“often results in marital problems” when the wife struggles to adapt to her new
This is what happened with regard to his own marriage,
stay here (in America), and we go (back to Africa) and within a month or two or
six months, we just marry somebody (there). The person doesn’t really know us,
and we don’t know the person. That’s a major issue,” he explains.
new arrivals in America, says Ndukwe, often struggle to adapt to a “totally
foreign culture,” as well as having to become accustomed to married life.
many immigrants, there is an additional stress that has to do with getting used
to the American culture – what is called ‘acculturation.’ That is a problem for
Africans show love through action… not words and
elaborating on the phenomenon of acculturation, Ndukwe refers to the preface to
his book, where he writes that the three words “I love you” are “very strange”
to most Africans.
Africans first arrive here in the US, they are indeed struck by the fact that
Americans seem to find it very easy to tell one another, ‘I love you,’” Ndukwe
explains. “Growing up in Africa, people don’t go around saying, ‘I love you.’
In the African culture, love is not something you just talk about; it’s not
something that you just say; it’s really meaningless (to talk about it). The
most important thing is how you demonstrate that love: How you take care of
yourself, how you take care of your children, how you take care of your family,
how you take care of your parents.”
says most African immigrants he spoke to for the purposes of his book are “amazed”
at the great emphasis Americans seem to place on husbands often giving flowers
to their wives.
this is one of those cultural differences. In Africa, I don’t see men giving
women flowers all the time – maybe once in a while, like on Valentine’s Day,
and that’s that. But here, giving flowers and things like that – and always
saying ‘I love you’ – are big deals in relationships.”
Ndukwe’s book explains, rifts are caused in many immigrants’ marriages in the
US as a result of these cultural differences.
the wives expect the husbands to behave exactly like the American men, and the
African men refuse to do so. The women then say their men don’t love them, and
then the marriages suffer…. And before you know it, they are using those cultures
to divide themselves. And they forget the culture from where they came….”
because most African men don’t often give their wives flowers and purr ‘I love
you’ in their ears, Ndukwe asserts, that doesn’t mean they don’t love their
women. “We just show our love in other ways, like providing for our partners,”
certainly advocates that immigrants in the US do their best to adapt to
American culture but also urges them to retain the “positive parts” of their
I said in the book, I’m hoping that they don’t use those aspects that are not
part of our culture to destroy their relationship. I just wish that couples
coming from Africa will realize that they should take what is best from the
American people, and from the American system, and take what is best from the
Nigerian or from the African culture…. And meld them together to make their
his book, says Ndukwe, he stressed how important it is for Africans living in
America to keep their ties to their home countries “through regular visits
home,” and also to maintain their “self-esteem as Africans. Not by rejecting
American culture; no. But by assimilating the positive aspects of both African
and American culture.”
A strong theme running through the Nigerian academic’s
book is a repudiation of violence against women.
some African men I have spoken with still seem to think it’s quite okay to use
force against women; they think it’s their right as husbands, that their
culture allows them to do it,” Ndukwe says.
He adds that while husbands who assault their wives back
in Africa “more often than not” escape punishment, this is not the case in the
you can get away in some African contexts with using violence against women, in
the US you will not get away with it. You will be punished severely. This is of
course how it should be, even throughout Africa. No matter how angry a woman
makes a man, he should never lift his hands against her,” Ndukwe advises.
through his book, he counsels battling spouses to do their best to treat one
another with kindness and respect, “as difficult as it may be.”
He says, “It is bad enough divorcing, without having all
the remorse attached to knowing that you were mean to the mother or father of