Congo’s Agape Ngoma-Ibinga discusses man-woman relations in the Congo
BY JOHN MUKENDI
Agapé Ngoma-Ibinga, 33, a Gospel singer credited with two albums, teaches singing techniques in an orphanage. But one could say that she came to music by chance, although she did get some training in singing. Indeed, she holds a Master’s Degree in Business Law, complemented with computer training. Though beautiful, healthy-looking, not poor by local standards, and apparently pleasant, Agapé is single at an age where, typically, African women are married with children. So in this interview, “The African Magazine”’s Joe Mukendi first asked why she is still single and has no children.
Agapé Ngoma-Ibinga: I have principles that guide my life. I live according to the Gospel. I am a strong believer, and if I’m still alive today, it’s thanks to God; and I can’t just live any way I want. In the Gospel, God asks me to have a man before having children, to have a man that loves me. A family is a big deal. I grew up in a family where my father loves my mother a great deal and respects her. I’d like to offer my children this kind of family atmosphere. I would not want to have children that would not see their father everyday. I know what it means to live with both parents. At the school where I teach, there are children who have never seen their father. Those are pretty unstable children. It’s tough. I would not want my children to be in the same situation. I know that when the time is right, I’ll get married and I’ll have children.
So you are searching…
[Loud laugh]. There is someone in my life and we have a project. I don’t want to be married and have a divorce soon thereafter. My parents have been married for thirty-two years. Although they have had to weather many storms, they are still together today. I want to do the same.
Is polygamy prevalent today in the Congo (Brazzaville)?
Yes, more so than before.
When the time is right and you get married, would you let your husband marry a second wife?
I know it is hard to be faithful, but it would not be easy for me to accept that. I’d rather he does it without my knowledge.
If he does so it’s fine, provided you don’t know about it.
I am not saying it’s fine. It hurts, definitely, but I don’t want to know about it.
According to at least one statistical source, the world is composed of 52% of women and 48% of men. Therefore, if all the men are married and everyone of them has only one wife, 2% of the world population – that is 120 million women – would be without a husband. Would that seem fair to you?
That’s the basis of my argument. Even the Bible says that at one point women will stick to men and say “marry me” (laugh). So if I get married, if a man puts a ring on my finger, it’s an honor for me to be in his house. I’m in his house, but it is not really a guarantee. I must keep on doing my best to stay in his house until the end. But I must not lose sight of the fact that when he goes out, he always comes across beautiful women. It is therefore up to me to do my best so that, although he meets beautiful women outside the house, I’d still be on his mind. Nobody knows the future. And the flesh is weak.
I must add that the same way a man can appreciate a beautiful woman outside the home, the same way a woman can appreciate a handsome man outside the home. If the woman is not strong, she can succumb. So it’s reciprocal.
How many children do you plan to have?
I wanted to have twelve (loud laugh).
How many do you want to have now?
Why did you initially want to have twelve?
It had to do with my age then. I wanted to have twelve, one for each tribe of Israel. But, now, three would be enough.
To you, how important is money in the life of a couple?
Money is necessary, but I think love must be above everything. Because, when there is love, even when money runs out, the couple can still live. Together, the wife and the husband can look for ways to bring in money. But when love is gone, so is everything else. When money is placed above love, the couple’s lifespan is pretty short.
Does the educated Congolese woman aspire to be equal to the man in reality, beyond the legal provisions that give her the same rights as the man?
The Congolese woman is naturally submissive. The Congolese girl, long before she becomes a woman, is taught to be totally submissive to her future husband if she wants to stay married to that husband. She is taught to fully obey her husband, to be a good home-maker. However, these days, owing to the influence of Western culture, the Congolese woman is becoming kind of a “rebel.” Especially when she is educated like me, especially when she has studied law like I have, and knows her rights. Some men avoid marrying women in the legal profession who are said to be “stubborn,” because they tend to tell their husbands: “The law says this, the law says that!” And men hate to hear that.
Does that create a sort of tension between husbands and wives?
Definitely so. Most of the divorce cases recorded are among educated couples. When the woman is not educated, the man feels more secure. That’s the sad reality. So much so that some men shy away from marrying educated women.
You are painting the Congolese man as a macho.
Something like that.
Then the uneducated woman must be almost like a slave to her husband.
Very much so, knowing that if she misbehaves and her husband throws her out, she has nowhere to go with her children, because, before she gets married, her family tells her that she must do anything to save her marriage; that there is no more space in her parents’ home for her.
Are there non-governmental organizations in the Congo that protect women’s rights?
There are some, but I don’t think those rights are actually protected.
Is the literacy rate high among girls?
Not really, especially after the war. As a result of the war, education has been dealt a blow.
As you see it, what’s the biggest challenge of the Congolese woman today?
As I said earlier, Congolese women are very much submissive to their husbands, because most of these women don’t have much education, if any at all. There are only a few women doctors and lawyers, or politicians, for that matter. So the Congolese women, at least some of them, want to study and rise above the crowd. That’s definitely one of the challenges of the Congolese woman today: to break that glass ceiling.