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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

FROM DESPAIR TO TRIUMPH: A WIDOW’S JOURNEY TO HER RIGHTFUL INHERITANCE

Msegena displays the judgement on an inheritance case she had won and recovered her house and other properties left by her deceased husband. Geita paralegals helped her claim her inheritance rights.


Under the Constitution of Tanzania every person is entitled to owning property, a right extended equally to both men and women and governed by the provisions of the Land Act and the Village Land Act. One would therefore rightly assume that this is a straight-forward, clear-cut situation; well, not quite. Incidents of widows losing their inheritance rights after the demise of a husband remain a serious problem in many societies across the country.

In the north-western region of Geita, Ms. Msegena Jeremia lost her husband in 2015 leaving her with the sole responsibility to bring up six children. while still overwhelmed by the pain of losing her husband, members of her clan convened an inheritance distribution meeting, a gathering that would ultimately and without her consent impose the destiny of any valuable assets.

Customarily, the eldest male child is placed in charge of any assets left behind by a deceased father and in Msegena’s case Joshua, a stepson and the eldest of the six children became the overseer of the assets which included a house, money deposited in a bank account and a motorcycle. Joshua was instructed to immediately withdraw TShs.1.9 million from the bank account and after opening an account for each of his siblings deposit an agreed amount into each account. The house and motorcycle would be sold.

This was to be the beginning of what seemed like a series of problems for Msegena. To her utter surprise, Joshua deposited all the money in his bank account and when she confronted him about this breach she said he attacked her physically and threatened to chop her hands off. With relations between the two of them deteriorating her husband’s relatives came together and began forcing her out of her matrimonial home.

“Joshua went so far as to lock me out of the house forcing me to spend two nights outside with no regard for my safety whatsoever. On the third day I couldn’t take it anymore so I went into town to seek any help I could get,” said Msegena with tears welling in her eyes.

In town she knocked on every door she believed would open for her to lay down her tons of burdens – from local community leaders to the police and finally the court. One of her attempts at seeking relief through the court and reclaim the inheritance hit a dead end when Joshua, now loaded with cash, bribed the magistrate who went on to rule in his favor.

Not every member of her late husband’s family wasn’t touched by what she was going through and at this point her sister-in-law, Safi, who apparently knew of a Geita-based paralegal, Bernard Mosira decide to help Msegane by introducing her to Bernard for further assistance. The rescue came to Msegena through Bernard Mosira who took up the case and immediately established communication with her.

“I called Bernard and explained my problem. He advised me to return home and promised me that he would remain in touch with me and that he will pursue my case”, she said.

Upon setting foot home however, the village chairman convened a traditional meeting traditionally known as “Nzengo” to isolate and force her out of the village on the fabricated claim that she engaged in untoward practices and was hence unfit to be part of the village.

On hearing the startling news Bernard travelled to the village the next day and approached the local leaders to at least help Msegena to start settling down again and get on the path to being in full control of her life, while also pointing the leaders to the consequences of their actions.

Seeing an open call to empower Msegena, Bernard used this experience to educate her on relevant provisions of the law, her rights and her responsibilities.

Armed with a new understanding and ripe confidence, she reported the maltreatment Joshua put her through to the local police station and within days he was apprehended and appeared before the primary court.  The court ruled in her favour ordering the clan members and her late husband’s relatives to desist from selling the house as intended, and effectively declared her its legal owner and of the motorcycle.

“During the hearing, I spoke like someone who knew the law, and people, particularly the magistrate and police, were surprised and wondered where I got such knowledge. I surely didn’t look convincing to anyone” stated Msegana.

“we are delighted to know the importance of observing laws and we have gone as far as inviting Bernard and his team and they have come up here twice now to provide legal education during our regular village meetings”, added the elder.

Msegena’s story paints a vivid picture of how effective legal education can be, often drawing two sides that were once polarized closer and closer and ultimately helping them find common ground under the canopy of the law. It makes a strong case for the sensitization of women’s rights and also the banishing of unjust customs and traditions.

Msegena, now a legally-empowered and free woman leads an improved life raising poultry and growing crops on land spreading out at the back of her house. The motorbike she once had no hope of ever seeing again now ferries people between nearby villages earning her extra income and allowing her to provide for her family.
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