Marriage organised by parents

I have been abroad for the past ten years pursuing my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. For this entire period, I never came back home due to inability to afford travel expenses. Also, considering that my family lives in an interior part of Tanzania, I had no regular communications with my family.  After completion of my studies, I decided to marry my longtime girlfriend with whom I was studying abroad. Our marriage was solemnized at one of the Christian churches in the city where we were pursuing our studies abroad. Recently, I decided to come back home to introduce my wife to my family. On arrival, I was shocked to be presented to a lady who was said to be my wife. I went into a complete shock and my foreign wife nearly fainted. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life as I did not know which room to go to sleep that day at night. Briefly, it is alleged that my parents unilaterally chose this lady for me; made dowry arrangements on my behalf; and a marriage ceremony was conducted with my elder brother as my representative. Upon making further enquiry, I was told that all what was done was in accordance with our customs and traditions and therefore a valid marriage was concluded. I am totally confused and want to know the status of my marriage considering that I was not involved at all in the said customary marriage.
EN, Shinyanga

It is unfortunate that you have found yourself in such a situation without your involvement. According to section 9 of the Law of Marriage Act (the Act), a marriage is a voluntary union of a man and woman intended to last for their joint lives. Also, section 38(1)(e) of the Act provides that a ceremony purporting to be a marriage shall be a nullity if the consent of either party was not freely and voluntarily given thereto. This implies that consent of the parties to a marriage is a mandatory requirement for a marriage to be valid. The absence of consent renders a ceremony purporting to be a marriage void, hence not recognized under the law. Further to the above, it is worth noting that generally for a marriage to be valid, both parties must be present in person at the marriage ceremony. However, according to section 38(2) of the Act, a proxy marriage would only be valid if the witnesses before whom the party gave his or her consent are present at the ceremony. Therefore, in your case, since you were neither present at the ceremony nor you gave your consent before any witnesses to the purported ceremony, you cannot be deemed to have validly concluded a marriage contract under the laws of Tanzania. This will disappoint your parents but will relieve your current wife.

Considering the above, your marriage that was contracted abroad with the woman of your choice remains to be valid as long as the same complies with the laws of the place where it was celebrated (lex loci celebrationis).