When customs crumbled before the law and a woman triumphed


In the village of Mungushi in Hai, Kilimanjaro Anna Munisi rears livestock amongst other things and lives a more content life with her children after legal aid enabled her to formally inherit property through a will that her husband left behind when he died.

According to the LSF 2019 annual report, a total of 3,848 inheritance disputes were brought to paralegals, and 2,318 inheritance cases were reported by women. Out of disputes reported by women, 1,280 (55%) was resolved and 781 (34%) women reported to secure their properties.

As it was in the other previous years, land and land-related properties were the most reported cases and secured properties. Everyday paralegals are dealing with land issues and most of these cases are between women against the deceased husbands’ relatives, who believe according to culture women are not entitled to own properties.

In the village of Mungushi in beautiful Hai District in Kilimanjaro, things weren’t so beautiful for Anna Munisi, who rightly anticipated inheriting matrimonial property following the loss of her husband in 2008.

Her late husband’s relatives intent on laying claim to property she accumulated with him prevented her from accessing it.

“I took my case to the village executive here and after hearing it he referred me to the district offices where I was put in touch with the paralegals’ office”, she says.

Asha Mpay was at the time of Anna’s ordeal the village executive that first received her.

“Anna’s situation wasn’t an uncommon one around here because traditionally women remain sidelined in regard to inheriting property after the death of a husband. I fully understood the need to help her, especially because she was left with very young children, who needed to go to school along with other vital needs, and as a matter of fact a very solid foundation for their future was a paramount need;

“I often worked with the paralegal organization on a wide variety of issues and when her issue came up, I didn’t hesitate to contact Assenga, because I knew there were legal issues that needed to be addressed to help Anna win her rights,” she explains.

Eutropia Assenga, the paralegal who attended to Anna guided her through the entire legal process all along helping build her confidence, because she understood the often immense challenges widows encounter when they need to stand up against determined in-laws.

At stake was a house and farmland which formed the foundation of her livelihood and vital guarantees for the future of her children.

“I took Anna under my wing and provided every piece of guidance, because there were certain mandatory aspects of the inheritance claims process that she wasn’t aware of. I asked her to provide her late husband’s death certificate, minutes from the clan meeting to determine inheritors as well as the names of close relatives helping her through the process. After providing these important documents, I informed her that probate and administration of estates cases are heard in the primary court;

“So, I accompanied her to court, where she successfully lodged her claim. As required by law, her application was publicized and there being no objection after the appointed period she was awarded her property in the presence of witnesses. I have absolute delight in the successful end to her ordeal and my call is for our traditional communities to abandon archaic customs, particularly those that benefit men at the cost of women. People need to understand that, everyone has equal rights and these rights must be respected,” says Assenga.

“I successfully reclaimed two plots of farmland, an acre here in the village, and another one located at Kambi ya Nyuki, not too far from here. I also secured a house around, which are plantain and banana plots up in the hills. You see, before my father-in-law died he wrote in his will designating these properties as my inheritance, however, my in-laws weren’t willing to honour that will,” Anna says.

Today Anna is a picture of confidence and she exudes plenty of charm. With the years of uncertainty and difficulty now long behind her, she looks more settled and looking to the future with renewed hope. She is one of many women, who could have lost more than their husband, but the fact that, legal aid wasn’t far away, gave her a fighting chance, that she fully took and reaped huge benefits both for her personally and for her children.

LSF’s Access to Justice Program has placed and maintains in every district the essential presence of ordinary men and women, whose work as paralegals actively providing solutions to everyday predicaments, that would otherwise deprive many especially women of their social and economic rights.

She is building her life daily and preparing her children’s futures. “On the farmland, I grow corn and beans in addition to the plantain and banana plants, and right here, I also run a small shop. There’s also a pigsty with several animals and along with that, I raise chickens all of which provide vital help for me here;

“One of my children is at university, one is in form three and the last one is in standard seven, and from the crops that I grow and sell, I pay their fees. My hopes for the future are bright, because I have restored what belonged to me, and I have the freedom to use these resources for my family,” she adds.

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