There are several factors that lead to gender-based violence in the home – or, as it’s more commonly known, domestic violence.  A lot of literature has been produced over the years about how to spot the warning signs that signify a potential or current partner might be abusive, but not much of this has been written from the point of view of African realities.


This article presents 7 signs that identify risk factors of domestic violence that might emerge during aromantic relationship within the African context.

  1. Familial Violence during Childhood

Some wise man or woman somewhere coined the phrase: “The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.” I believe people generally have two responses to growing up in a violent environment; they either unwittingly take on violent traits and responses which they pass on, or they go with the other extreme, and become ardent pacifists as a way to rebel against the dysfunction they witnessed in childhood.

I believe that the latter category is largely a result of reflective thinking about one's own self – thinking that requires incredible introspection and self-awareness.  As the refrain goes, the least common thing in the world is common sense, and so people of this caliber are, unfortunately, often the exception and not the norm.

Most people are likely to inherit violent responses and develop a persona that is more accommodating to violence as a solution in contentious situations.

Therefore, one may deduce from selective questioning, the level of violence their partner was exposed to in life both within and outside of the family environment. This is not a foolproof test, however, but just one of the signs to consider.

2. Cultural or Religious Beliefs

This I believe, is one of the strongest signals of a partner’s propensity for violence. I suggest that the moral code of many Africans are heavily influenced by faith. This is probably generally the case all over the world, but I believe there is a correlation between this and education, given that Africa as a region reflects some of the lowest educational engagement and maintenance statistics in the world.

The effect of this is that even where scriptures merely hint at sanctioned violence in marriage, religious leaders in African societies tend to perpetuate the most conservative interpretations of these teachings - often biased by their own environment and upbringing, and frequently tainted with patriarchal views that justify their own private actions.

3. Scrunity at Home

In homes where families live with others – and especially other adults -imbalance of power in a relationship is somewhat mitigated due to the public nature of what would otherwise be a private home.

On the domestic level, if a couple lives with other adults - either other family members, roommates, or friends - they may have an incentive to keep their more violent tendencies suppressed as much as possible.

Although people have different temperaments and personality types, it is generally accepted in the  world of sociology that the “big brother effect” (the possibility that someone is watching) forces people to conform to behavior that is deemed to be socially acceptable.

Also, because African communities are largely communal, people may not want certain aspects of their lives to be known by neighbors and extended family members due to risk of being shamed; a force to be reckoned with in communal societies.

4. Infidelity

Violence in the home may be threatened or ongoing even before marital betrayal takes place, however infidelity is a curious mechanism in situations of domestic violence.  Some victims of domestic abuse are so insecure and lacking in self-worth that it is not uncommon for them to seek a new romantic partner before mustering the strength to leave an abusive one.

However, this is a dangerous endeavor, particularly if caught.Crimes of passion unfortunately largely take a violent form, and the amplification of betrayal in this context, (“If my partner leaves me, they’ve made a fool out of me and I’ve lost my human punching bag!”) brings out an even more sadistic and cruel streak from an abuser.  There can be an intention from the start to cause ongoing or severe pain to the other partner as retribution for unfaithfulness.

5. Polygamy in the Home

Polygamy is practiced in particularly in Islamic societies in Africa, which comprises roughly 50% of the African population.  The other 50% of the continent’s faithis divided between Christianity and indigenous African beliefs, the latter of which also largely accommodates polygamy.

In households or compounds where multiple spouses (most of which, if not all, are women) are placed in a hierarchical or competitive situation, there is a strong predisposition within the home for emotionally-charged disputes. Partners will viciously compete for attention, resources, and affection, which creates a high risk of violence.

6. Verbal abuse

Another dimension to domestic violence is that it is not always the physically violent partners who initiate violence. Physical violence is not to be supported in anyway, shape, or form – however the physical aspect of violence is not the sole form of domestic abuse that needs redress.  More pervasive and subtle is verbal psychological abuse, which is damaging enough on its own but is also a dire harbinger of potential future physical abuse.

A verbally abusive partner that keeps throwing verbal jabs is evidently one who does not navigate non-violent communication effectively, which makes them both a source of – and magnet for – violence and aggression.

7. Public Aggression

And now, for one last (but not least) saying from the wise men of old: “If it quacks like a duck, walks like duck…”

You get the picture.

Angry or aggressive people do not stop being angry and aggressive when they come home.  A hostile person in public is simply a hostile person wearing their best public persona.  Imagine, then, what they might be like behind closed doors.


In Africa, a lot can be learned about a person's propensity for domestic violence by simply asking them. Unlike the western world, where domestic violence is generally accepted to be wrong, Africa’s acceptance of corporal punishment between parents and children is not only normal, but encouraged.  As such, the African psyche around violence is flavored by the standards we currently accept.

A violent partner doesn’t necessarily need to satisfy all these criteria to be violent.  In fact, some people might have come from traumatic, violent backgrounds and developed the necessary skills to manage their innate aggression and never hurt anybody.  This guide exists to help people assess risk before they are too deeply invested in a person who might, with time, become dangerous.

Views about violence between romantic partners may differ among the continent’s diverse peoples and cultures, but a significant number of Africans - and West Africans in particular - believe that a husband has the right to use force to discipline his wife in appropriate contexts.  The violence is not the question; the context is.

It follows then that the belief that domestic violence is sanctioned is one of the most tell-tale signs of the possibility of domestic violence in a romantic relationship.  But it does not mean that we, as Africans, must accept it.


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