Land. What does it mean to you? I remember those Business Studies classes in high school. Questions would come in the form of: What are the characteristics of land as a factor of production? Such questions usually carried four marks, most of them did. At least for paper one! Geography lovers ahoy! How would you explain the value attachment on land geographically? I guess there’s a lot of History to that. Come to think of it, who said land should only be owned by men? We’ll get to that debate soon but first:
Can’t a daughter inherit her father’s land?
We landed in Kisumu one evening in March and took a cab to Kakamega. My friend Israel was exhausted. A day before, we had traveled from Nanyuki to Nairobi after a week-long training and filming program. Douglas, our taxi driver was welcoming. Our trip from the airport to the hotel in Lurambi was full of “Mukhombero” tales. You know what it is, don’t ask. The days to follow would be spent exploring the land and training women on the use of social and mainstream media for advocacy.
You know those big compounds that have to be cleaned every morning? Those who grew up in the village understand this better. The morning ritual would seem like a punishment during the rainy season. You had to pick all the leaves that had fallen over night. That’s what I noticed in Agneta Khatakala’s compound. The compound was neat, the grass green and trimmed. At the center of the compound, a single tree that had a big shed. It was 11AM. The home seemed deserted. Agneta was in the house, in the sitting room, alone. She’s 65 years old. She has a help who assists her with cooking and in doing errands. She also needs help moving from one place to another on the wheelchair she received from the persons with disability association in Lurambi. Agneta is an only child. Her parents passed on a few years ago. She has two daughters. She’s also a good storyteller. This particular story though is not a good one. We had to sit under the single tree to hear it. The other location we had selected, somewhere behind the kitchen overlooking the garden with long overarching bananas. The next compound is that of her uncle. And there was a problem with him hearing our story. So here is how it began. After her father passed on, the uncle conspired to take over ownership of the land. Agneta’s mother at some point got ill and needed to sell a piece of the land to cater for her medication. This, her uncle couldn’t allow. When her mother passed on, her uncle went ahead to get the title deed changed to his name. On a piece of the land sits a church. It’s the first building you’d see if you were walking into her compound. Her uncle had caused a fuss about its construction but Agneta’s late father’s wish prevailed. A long and tedious court process then began in a bid to help reclaim the ownership of the land. “My father helped me in educating my daughters. If it were not for my daughter, I would not get back this land. The court process was very expensive, Agneta informed us. After 4 years of back and forth, she got a title deed, in her name. Her uncle didn’t take that lightly, and they haven’t been in good terms since. Agneta wishes other women would speak out and be assisted. In a community where women land ownership is almost a taboo, her story is a success that rarely happens. As she sees us off she asks this question; can’t her girl inherit her father’s land? As we head out to another part of the county, I’m reminded of another story in Laikipia County.
This time it’s not an uncle, it’s the in-laws. Rosemary lives in Mukima, Nanyuki in Laikipia County. Now she has developed her land. She rears cows, goats, keeps chicken and has enough land to farm. This she said helps her feed her family and to sustain herself economically. A few years ago, that wasn’t the case. Soon after her husband died, her in-laws kicked her out of their property. She lived in a slum in Nanyuki with her children for seven years. Her eyes tell it all. In there, you can see the struggles, the pain, the frustrations she’s gone through after her husband died. It also holds something else. Hope. After two years of court battle, she got her title deed. She acquired her title deed in 2011 and with it, she got their land back-the title deed is in her name.
Back in Kakamega we continued our filming. Our journey takes us to Ikolomani. We got to this home. It’s a big homestead. Houses are spread in different places to signify that the land has been subdivided. We’ve come to see Mrs Nyangasi. When we get there, we find her on her farm, tilling under the scorching sun. She comes to meet us and invites us to her house. Her house sits on the boundary. She found that out after the recent land subdivision. Irene is a widow. Her husband died in 2003. She is her late husband’s first wife. After he died, she wasn’t allowed to till the land. She depends on the land to feed her family. She has one son. Her son spends most of his time at the drinking joints in the village, so Irene takes care of her grandchildren. Without the permission to till the land, that was a tall order for Mrs Nyangasi. He case isn’t settled yet. The court directed the chief to oversee the subdivision of land between her and the other family. The court process took 4 years. Her joy is in the fact that she can now till her land, and get food to take care of her family. “I don’t have money, so I can’t get my title deed. Once I get my title deed, I’ll have the confidence and security to till my land freely.”
Up North in Laikipia, land ownership has for a long time been communal. The Maasai culture does not allow women to own land. In the community land setting, there’s a register that helps in identifying the members of that particular community. Today, the law allows for women and children to be included in the community land register. Before, that was completely unheard off. In Laikipia North, the communities live in ranches. As we lean’t from mama Safi,
“Being in the land register as a woman enables you to fight for your right as a woman, it enables you to participate in key decision making on your community land and it also gives you the right to take part in community land leadership.”
“We are grateful because the Community Land Act recognizes women. This is very helpful for the Maasai Woman,” quipped Mary Mosiany who also lives in Tiamamut, Laikipia North. “As we speak, I’m a registered member and I sit at the community land management committee of our group ranch. We are five women in the committee” she added.
There are many other stories like these. Many we haven’t heard. Many that haven’t been told. And there are not just stories, they are lived realities. Stories of widows who have been disinherited, and women who can’t own land for the only reason that they are women.
Playing a crucial role in the reinstatement of the above women and many more in Kenya is GROOTS Kenya. They are out to ensure women land rights are realized. There are watchdog groups set up in the villages in different parts of the country to help monitor, report and follow up cases of disinheritance to the very end like the case of Rosemary, Mrs Nyangasi and Agneta. In IKOCHWA watchdog group is a man; Mr Majimbo. He says there are many cases of disinheritance that happen in Kakamega County and although the court process is hectic and expensive, he won’t give up the fight. On the day we were filming in Khayega, he had been from a farm where a widow had been disinherited and they had gone with the chief and police to oversee the transfer and the tilling of the land. He calls on men to champion for the rights of women and orphans. “I am proud to be the first man to champion for women’s rights in this country.”
Where are we with the debate? Who is winning? Opposers? Proposers? What do we call the group that doesn’t fall on either side? Now I am aware that land is an emotive issue in this country and there are many underlying factors linked to this resource and the issue of ownership. The purpose of this piece was to let you look at this issue through the eyes of these women.
What did you say Mukhombero does again?