65-year-old Zuhra Ahmed’s single room in Makina Village, Kibra is in shambles. The Muddy walls of the 12 by 12 room are perforated, with potholes spread on its dusty floor. Come end month, her landlord will demand 2000 Kshs as rent. Zuhra ought to be a landlady as well, but patriarchy, so deeply rooted in her culture, is oppressing her.
Practically joined at the hip is Zuhra with her middle-aged daughter Hamida Musa whom they share the room. She at times sinks into occasional bouts of worry fearing that her in-laws would grab her belongings, as they did with their matrimonial home 18 years ago after her husband’s demise.
The soft-spoken widow posits that customary law and beliefs prohibited her from inheriting land left by her loving husband. Her other daughter is leading a wandering life after the mother failed to afford her school fees. Zuhra says the lastborn daughter always wanted to be a teacher.
“My husband left a piece of land, two houses, and a shop which were all documented on his will, my brothers in law seized them” Laments Zuhra hinting that life has been unbearable.
“I am hopeless and worthless on this earth, finding something to eat is a problem, I survive on miracles,” She says.
Zuhra’s hope, after her husband’s demise, was that the in-laws would take care of her as they promised their brother who had predicted his death. She says all receipts and documentation were given to the brothers (By the husband) on instructions that they would hand them back after the final burial rights were conducted. She prays that one day, just one day, they will come back to their senses.
Asked whether she ever thought of going to court, Zuhra responds, “every time I petition the court, the Kadhi rules in favor of my in-laws. I feel drained”.
Janet Anyango, a human rights lawyer believes the woman deserves justice. Janet, also a member of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA), posits Zuhra only needs the husband’s death certificate, a ‘search’ document indicating that the piece of land is in her husband’s name, and a letter from the area chief identifying the dependents of the deceased.
“FIDA can assist her to get justice as per the Kenyan law.” Says Anyango adding that more than five thousand cases of women being denied their rights to property inheritance are reported annually in Kenya with the western region leading in such abuses.
The lawyer says it at times becomes problematic as most property is registered under the names of old men who died decades ago. This, according to Anyango, leads to conflicts when dependents apply for title deeds.
Section 29 of the Law of Succession Act, 1981 Chapter 160 of the Laws of Kenya (Revised 2017) guarantees a widow the right to inherit her husband’s property, including shares, house, vehicles, and money. According to Faith Alubbe, the Director of Kenya Land Alliance, denying a woman the right to inherit property is a prohibited custom and all perpetrators must be brought to book.
A study conducted by Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) shows 96% of the land is owned by men with 6% owned by both husbands and wives. Only 1% is possessed by women.
We tried seeking comment from the brothers-in-law, but none was willing to speak. Zuhra continues to gallivant around her troubled subconscious mind hoping that Allah will respond to her dua during this holy month of Ramadan.
Listen to the Swahili Version of this story that aired on Pamoja FM
Story Editted by Henix Obuchunju