Women are at the bottom of the power chain in African traditions (except a few tribes where a minimum amount of power is dished out in form of leadership). For many years, Kenyan tribes have favored the boy child over the girls. In terms of inheritance, no girl child had any right to own property until early 2000’s when parliament entertained a law that gave legal rights for any female child to claim a portion of the family heirloom. This law was a saving grace to men, who with heavy tremendous efforts, have tried to conceive a male heir but have failed and their only solution is leave their wealth in the hands of their own DNA carriers, not their relatives.
Cases of relatives riding in full power the waves of traditional laws to grab wealth was so common and severe in families with no man to head the homestead. Presently, this happens but not as openly as before. Corruption has made this possible. Just pay off a money-hungry, traditionalistic judge and like magic, your wish comes true.
Mothers are the front line in this war against unjust traditional laws of inheritance. If a woman has no son(s),the brothers-in-law or male cousins from the husband’s side can possess the wealth left behind by the deceased since no female is traditionally fit to run it.
Another way to grab wealth is by marriage. Relatives from the husband’s side can coerce the widow into marriage where the wealth automatically comes into his charge. In the Luo community, this practice is known as wife inheritance. The closest relatives to the husband are bound by law to take over the deceased responsibilities to the wife. The tradition requires them to raise children in honor of the dead husband or brother to carry on his name. This practice was a major propagator of HIV/AIDS in early ’90s in the Nyanza and Western provinces of Kenya. However, in the recent times in light of education and campaigns against wife inheritance this practice has almost it wiped out.
What about Kenyan youths and their take in this inheritance issues?
As a university student, i got the chance to take this subject to a test run with my course mates and several random acquaintances i made during the debate on inheritance and women rights.
2% said they did not care about it. 52.5% were against women getting a share of inheritance. The remaining were for women inheriting a portion of the wealth.
Shocking, isn’t it? In this time and age, despite modernization and education levels of the youths, their views on inheritance is greatly chauvinistic.
I noted during this debate, that the men and women against the women inheriting wealth were mostly raised in the rural areas of the country where tradition was honored and strictly adhered to. Some had the chance to be partly raised in the city or towns due to schooling, yet the influence of those places had not shifted their views on this matter.
For those supporting women inheritance rights were majorly ladies, many of whom have experienced prejudice and unfairness due to gender inequality. The 5% believed the inheritance matter is pointless since as an educated person you are fully equipped to generate your own wealth and not hang on to the idea of inheriting a cent from anyone.
Circumcision , a male rite of passage from a boy to a man, has played a role in this chauvinistic view of inheritance.
During this event, boys are taught how to act and behave as a man, what and who is a man. Their heads are pumped up with traditionalistic guides of how to be a man. A man is the head of a home. A man has to take care of his family. A man protects. Family and community elders take part in advising the teenage boys on the ways of men. This practice is good and true but what about the unjust traditional rules? Are they imparted on this generation too?
Many of these young circumcised men in campuses and colleges, in self employment or in high schools are tainted with chauvinistic views. Despite the positive side of African circumcision , chauvinistic traditional laws have found a way to be alive in this generation. This is the reason why in many African countries, there are no women presidents. Very few women occupy positions of power in governments, companies and organisations.
It is not only in inheritance matters that women are martyrs but also in other forms of violence such as domestic violence and in civil wars. Adding to this list are country laws that strip women their freedom, reducing them into nothing more but property.