Cohabitation Bill Divides Uganda’s Political Class

case geneva; font-size: small;”>The debate on the bill commenced with some legislators rallying for cohabitation to be recognized as a form of marriage.

The bill tabled in December 2009 provides for the types of recognized marriages in Uganda, marital rights and duties, recognition of cohabitation in relation to property rights, sets grounds for breakdown of marriage, and provides for rights of parties on dissolution of marriage.

It deals with widow inheritance and separation, but also outlaws demands for return of marriage gifts given as bride price.

The bill has become a matter of concern to everyone in the country unlike other bills that are always tabled in the parliament.


Very many people ranging from politicians, religious leaders, civil society groups and the common man have come out and pronounced their views on the bill.

The major issues that are causing commotion in the Uganda society pertaining this bill are; how to share property during time of divorce, cohabitation being considered as a form of marriage and return of marriage gifts and bride price.

Recently President Yoweri Museveni came out and cautioned the members of Parliament to stop rushing into enacting this bill into law advising members to first ensure that the youth are employed and therefore they will be having property to share in case of a divorce.

Museveni asked legislators why they are rushing with the bill when youths are not yet empowered.

In his argument, the President believes that the voters should be equally involved in the making of this bill because it is to greatly impact them if not consulted by their representatives in parliament.

Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut, the Minister of Information and National Guidance says the government position on the Marriage and Divorce bill is that divorce shouldn’t be advocated for as a priority but should aim at building up families.

“We should all aim at building up strong families and seeing that couples stick together rather than aiming at sharing of property due to divorce.”

The Minister adds that the bill has a lot of good articles that should be embraced but the issues like cohabitation and return of marriage gifts after separation of the married should not appear again in the bill.

She argues that bride price in most traditions of our society are totally considered as a gifts and the issue of returning a “gift” is unpractical because this is simply a gift.

Dr. Abed Bwanika, President People’s Democratic Party, says the bill seeks to confer equal rights to the partners in the marriage, while entering the marriage, during marriage and at dissolution of the marriage.

This may not offer justice since the two partners may not have had equal status at the time of marriage be it financial.

Bwanika recommends that the partners should be deemed equal only in body not property while entering marriage and therefore should be left with liberty to determine how they share the properties and not expressly dictated by the law.

He also suggests that a contract stating the wishes of the partners entering marriage in regard to the shares of wealth each partners accrues in case of dissolution should be signed at the wedding and tenable in the courts of law.

Bwanika believes that legalizing cohabitation as an official form of marriage in Uganda will not be wise for the law to correct an illegal partnership simply by awarding property rights.

“Cohabiting wives and husbands should never accrue property rights save the share of their children.” He affirms.

He says the law will only benefit majorly the elite and urban women since the rural poor have no property to share despite that they are the majority. They cannot share poverty, women groups dear to women cause should concentrate on poverty alleviation among the rural as apriority.

However, the UPC spokesperson, Okello Lucima argues that in this discussion, the major purposes of marriage should be considered which include love and companionship and later formation of a family.

Lucima believes that cohabitating couples form a largest portion of our country’s population and this necessitates that they should be protected in case of dissolution in their relationship.

Lucima says it is quite unfair to stay with someone for a certain period and think that you accumulated all the wealth without her contribution, yet while you had gone to work, she always ironed the clothes that you put on.

“There are very many people who don’t have any religious affiliations and formulating the law basing on religious norms will be segregative.”

We need a law that is not anchored in any particular religion, tradition or culture.

Cohabitation is “common law relationship” and cohabiters should be considered and their relationship should be protected for the betterment of our society.

On the other hand, Lucima stretched that the country should not be bothered with the return of bride price in tome of dissolution because this with modernization, material and social development and education of a girl child will soon fade.

Many people think the bill is uncalled for since religions, people’s beliefs and traditions have already laid up basic principles and guidelines.

You are a stake holder in this country, please don’t play a deaf ear but contribute towards a national dialogue knowing that your contribution will affect your off-springs.

The bill once passed by Parliament will empower the Minister for Justice to divide the country into marriage districts, licence places of public worship to solemnize marriages. It also outlaws same sex marriage.

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