By the time Joseph Ndirangu’s mother, Grace Muthoni died in 2011, she had not shared her eight-acre farm among her four sons and four daughters.
She did not leave a Will on how she wanted the property divided.
Ndirangu’s father had died earlier, but not before he bestowed 17 acres of his land to his four sons, one acre each to his four daughters and the remaining eight acres to his wife, Muthoni.
Now that Muthoni was dead, the eight acres were up for grabs between the siblings.
In October 2015, Ndirangu filed a petition at the High Court in Naivasha seeking the court’s intervention to divide his mother’s estate between him and his three brothers-Muriithi, Kibanya and Mbugua.
The petitioner also included his mother’s four grandsons and her daughter-in-law, Lilian Muthoni, in the claim for the estate located in Nyandarua.
In his petition, Ndirangu proposed that he gets 1.4 acres, his two brothers, Muriithi and Kibanya, get 1.6 acres each, while Mbugua was to get a quarter acre of the land.
He also proposed that his mother’s daughter-in-law gets 1.25 acres while her four grandsons were to get a quarter of an acre each.
The remaining portion was to be sold to a Simon Chuchu.
However, his sister, Penina Wangui, objected to the proposal arguing that it was discriminatory and insisting that their mother’s property be shared equally between the family’s eight siblings with each getting an acre.
In her objection affidavit filed in September 2017, Wangui insisted that she and her three sisters deserved a share of their mother’s estate registered as Nyandarua/Mkungi /3637.
In cross-examination, Wangui told the court that the sisters had since sold the one acre of land that each received from their father and now wanted a piece of their mother’s land.
In February this year, Judge Richard Mwongo agreed with Wangui and her sisters and ordered that Muthoni’s estate be distributed equally among the eight siblings.
Mwongo further dismissed the petitioners’ proposal to give a share of the property to Muthoni’s grandsons, ruling that the four should get their share from their parent’s portions.
The ruling was in two parts.
“First, that the deceased estate must be distributed equally to all her children, grandchildren being provided for under their parents’ portions. Secondly, that the children of the deceased must disclose or account for properties and gifts given to them by the deceased, so as to enable just distribution in accordance with the law,” stated Justice Mwongo.
The judge further ordered the siblings to meet and agree on how they would distribute the estate.
In his ruling, Mwongo said that the law did not distinguish between men and women in property inheritance.
The ruling was yet another victory for the girl-child seeking to inherit their parent’s property in a conservative African culture where men take it all.
Incidentally, the law giving women, married or not, equal rights to inherit their parent’s property has been in existence since 1981.
But it is only recently that women have been taking the inheritance battle to the men’s doorstep.
In another succession ruling delivered in a Nyeri court on May 30, three sisters were allowed to share a 10-acre piece of land belonging to their mother equally with their two brothers.
Justice Teresiah Matheka directed Francis Wambugu and Sammy Mathangani to ensure the estate of their mother, Esther Wangui Kamuhia, was divided equally among all five children.
The two brothers wanted the Sh80 million property shared between themselves, excluding their three sisters: Bance Wangechi Wachira, Mary Wanjiku Kahu and Rose Waigumo Ndeere. They told the court that this was their late mother’s wish.
They argued that the three sisters were all married with their own homes and properties, and were therefore not entitled to inherit their mother’s property.
However Justice Matheka dismissed their arguments saying that no child was superior to the other in sharing inheritance.
“The Law of Succession Act does not know sex/gender. It knows the deceased’s child. The parcel of land belonged to the mother of all the parties herein. None of them has a superior right of inheritance,” ruled Justice Matheka.
“By taking it all the sons will turn it to their own private property with no access to the daughters. The fact of their marriages per se does not change the fact that the protesters are children of the deceased,” she ruled.
The rulings have evoked varying opinions on married women claiming a share of their parents’ property.
Whilst it is uncommon in many African traditions to have women inheriting their parents’ property, the constitution in the Section 42 of the Law of Succession Act supersedes traditions and allows equal division of a parent’s estate among the surviving children, irrespective of their gender.
Advocate John Njomo views rising cases of women fighting for a share of their parent’s property as a sign that they have become enlightened on their property rights. He says more women are challenging their parents’ wills that left them out while bequeathing property.
“The law has been there and it only became more alive in under the current constitution and women are catching up with it,” said Mr Njomo.
He says the succession law cushions women in cases where their marriages fail or where they chose not to get married at all.
“We should not assume that every woman must get married. In some cases, some brothers chase away their sisters after their marriages break up and they return to their parent’s homes. This is unfair,” says Njomo.
Those who opposed to women inheriting their parent’s property argue that this can cause unnecessary conflicts within families. Others argue that women who inherit their parent’s property are cursed.
“Culturally, it would pain the brothers when their married sisters inherit an equal share. The man’s stature in the community is disregarded and there are consequences,” says Gakuo Matu, a Kikuyu elder.What’s invisible but you wish people could see?