The memory is still fresh not because James Nyenje died of any mysterious disease but his death caused his family a lot of suffering when his relatives took everything from Angelina, the deceased’s wife, leaving her and the three children with nothing.
The incident disappointed Kasoko and it made her realize the importance of women to own land and other property. She was determined to help Angelina get back her property and mobilise other women in the village to know their rights to own land and fight to protect these rights.
“I have only completed primary school and I can say I am not educated. And at that time I only had a slight knowledge about land tribunals but I was determined to help Angelina by all means,” explains Kasoko.
What transpired thereafter is a long story but suffice to say that Angelina got back the family house and the two hectare farm that she jointly owned with her late husband. On the other hand Ms Kasoko has become an avid advocate of women’s land rights, thanks to training offered by Haki Ardhi, a Land Rights Research and Resources Institute based in Dar es Salaam.
To date, Kasoko has participated in three short course offered by Haki Ardhi which focused on basic understanding of land laws, instruments available for arbitration of land conflicts, procedures to be followed in arbitration of land conflicts and conservation of the environment, among others.
“We work with rural communities most of whom who are ignorant of land laws and regulations governing land rights and ownership. So they stand vulnerable to lose their property. In particular we build awareness among women of the right to own land and how to protect this right when it is under threat,” explains Augustino Munuma, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Haki Ardhi. “Women’s right to own land is greatly threatened by men who believe they are the sole owners of every property in the family. Culture and tradition in many societies have oppressed women and made many of them submissive; they cannot speak for their rights,” he adds.
Kasoko is now one of the Land Rights Monitors (LRM) in Mchombe village whose duty is to educate villagers on land issues and help solve conflicts so that no one, man or woman, loses their right to own land.
Currently she is working with other stakeholders to find a solution to a conflict between the village government and authorities of Kilombero Forest Reserve over the boundary between the two.
“A new boundary was set recently that cuts a chunk of the village land. The boundary threatens our lives because it shows that some houses and farms are in the forest land; which means people will be evicted and lose their property,” she explains.
Another land rights monitor in the village, Rozina Michael, explains that village has about four different boundaries set by various authorities. Villagers are at a loss as to which is the legitimate boundary. They are worried that the confusion has been set purposely in order to deny them to own land. “We are not going to give in; this is our land and we must protect it,” she says
The conflict has seen some land monitors being arrested and locked up by the police on claims that they are activists who could bring unrest in the village. “The police have also questioned some residents about the activities of land rights monitors and if they incite people to cause trouble. But the truth is that the land rights monitors only help the village to protect its land because we own it legally,” explains Juma Daniel Mbaluka, a resident of Mchombe village.
In Lukolongo village awareness among women of the right to own land is high. Many of them own land as individuals. There are also few conflicts between individuals regarding ownership of land, “But we have a problem with the village land tribunal. Three of the seven members of the tribunal are women and these are almost always absent when conflicts are heard and arbitration has to be made. At the end of the day only men make the decisions,” explains Renatus Mhanga a local land rights monitor.
Yet the village is one of the few places where many women have acquired Customary Certificates of Right of Occupancy (CCROs). “A total of 670 certificates have been acquired so far. Out of these, 550 certificates have been given to women and 120 to men. This is quite a big achievement in the efforts to ensure that women exercise the right to own land,” explains Bonventura Adam Nkole, who has helped many widows get back their land after it was grabbed by relatives of their deceased husbands.
In Zambia village of Kiteto District conflicts between pastoralists and farmers have been resolved after the two sides formed a committee of 20 people including nine women, to deal with all conflicts in the village. The committee has given itself the mandate to fine any wrong doers and such money goes to finance social services including building classrooms. Villagers thus live in harmony as the committee is seen to make just decisions.
Efforts to ensure that women exercise the right to own land and enjoy adequate benefits from the ownership are met with various challenges. Some women don’t acknowledge the right to own land.
“We have trained many women about the importance of owning land both as individuals and jointly with their spouses but some do not want their names and photos to appear in the Certificates of Right of Occupancy which they share with their husbands.
This is important because men can sell property without the consent of the wives especially if the woman’s name does not appear in the customary certificate,” says Christina Gunja of Lukongo village.
In many regions across Africa, land remains under the control of men thanks to stubborn cultural barriers. In Ghana, for example, when women manage to own land in their own right, their husbands are still perceived as heads of the household and therefore have final say on their wives’ pieces of land.
In the case of Lukongo village, those who have CCROs also face problems when it comes to getting loans from banks and other financial institutions. Most of them think that once they own the certificate it is a matter of presenting it to a bank and everything falls into place. Some acquire loans from individual money lenders and when they fail to pay as agreed upon, they lose their land and other property.
“We need to educate women not only about the procedure to follow in order to acquire a loan but also what they stand to lose if they fail to repay the loan. They should understand that the loans they acquire should be for businesses and not for spending on luxuries,” says Bonaventure Mpole, the LRM in Mchombe village.
Environmental degradation is also a barrier for community members to get maximum benefits from the pieces of land they own. For land in its own right is useless without water, trees and natural vegetation, among other things.
“We realized that all of us - farmers, pastoralists and fishermen - have been responsible for environmental destruction in our areas. So we mobilized villagers to plant trees along river banks. We also held awareness raising discussions in Ijia village on impacts of uncontrolled bush fires after which we planted 100 trees.
We intend to plant 500 when the rainy season begins in a bid to protect water sources and increase soil fertility in the farms,” explains Mpole.
Land Rights Monitors keep the message of land ownership and land rights alive and kicking in all the 10 districts in which Haki Ardhi implement the Ardhi Yetu Programme. However their number is small and some of those trained do not perform their duties.
Still others work in isolation instead of working as a team due to personal problems. These have little chance to interact with their peers and so cannot keep abreast with new developments.
There is need to introduce land rights monitor forums in order to bring everyone on board and share experience on how to deal with the various scenarios of land rights and land ownership.
“Some women land rights monitors are prohibited from offering services by their husbands. Land rights monitors forums could look into this problem and look for possible solutions,” says Augustino Munuma.