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“Livin’ rich and dyin’ broke”

I have been attending a series of weddings in the past few months and have been really thinking about the whole wedding industry. The common thread between all of the weddings is that the bride and groom are Ethiopians living in the diaspora and they are all in the late 20s or early 30s. The weddings took place in Addis Ababa or outside of the country.

There are of course commonalities between all of the different types of weddings and there are trends that are fashionable at the moment but will be a “bit” embarrassing when the couple looks at the wedding video a few years down the line. Something I found to be interesting is the level of religious ceremonies during the wedding despite the fact that the most of bride and groom were not raised in homes that are particularly religious.

The other interesting part of all of these weddings is the desire to be different and still be rooted in the tradition. The interesting part is that despite this desire to be special, they all end up being almost the same, the traditional part takes over as it is exquisite and overwhelming. In all honesty it is beautiful to see Ethiopian tradition and music being played and observed in different parts of the world, from a small town in Italy to San Francisco. It is a very endearing and nostalgic experience that never gets old.

These weddings also have another important thread, they are expensive and in a lot of circumstances, people are going into debt paying for them. This is true in Ethiopian weddings in Ethiopia, especially in the main cities, and Ethiopian weddings abroad. I find this to be a very challenging practice to be quiet about. I do not want to revamp the discussion from a perspective of “are we overspending on weddings?” but from a wealth transfer one.

I have been listening to the new Jay-Z album, one of the most famous rappers in the world for those of you who may not be familiar. In one of his songs he raises the issue of transfer of wealth, especially among the black community. I do not agree with him completely but I do want to share the part I agree about. My favorite rap lyric from that song is “livin’ rich and dyin’ broke”. This, in my opinion, is something that can describe the life of a section of Ethiopians in the country and in the diaspora. Many are in fact living rich and dying broke, why?

The transfer of wealth is something we do not talk about often, so much so that it all blows in our faces when there’s a death. In fact our courts are filled with inheritance related cases. The idea of helping our next generation start off from a better footing by transferring more than just words of wisdom is an important discussion to be had. How many of us are living rich and dying poor and leaving a poorer generation with a serious disadvantage, having to start financial stability from scratch?  

Although weddings are an unlikely place to think of transfer of wealth, I think they are a good place to start. Why pay for a lavish wedding when one can instead invest the money in a home, a share in financial institutions or businesses the newlyweds choose? As they start a journey to spending their lives together, it is important to think long term. And as Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it only makes sense that we build a generation that has a vested interest in the country’s development and future.