Delayed Justice: African women to shout from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro for the world to listen
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14 October 2016 Author :   Isaiah Esipisu
Walking towards Mt. Kilimanjaro

SIAYA, Kenya (PAMACC News) – When an American investor arrived in Siaya County in 2003 with a promise of transforming thousands of hectares that form the Yala Swamp into an agricultural and fish production potential, Mary Abiero, a mother of five children from Yiro village knew that a new brighter day had come.

But today, the 63 years old widow is one of the 280 women camping at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Arusha, Tanzania, representing over one million women in Africa who have been oppressed, and denied the right to own property, in particular land. 38 of the women will climb the mountain to the top as a symbol of elevating women voices to the highest physical location in Africa.

When he started his investment, the American farmer who had already acquired the entire Yala Swamp from the government decided to increase the portion from the original 3,700 hectares to 6,900 hectares so as to have enough reservoir of water for irrigated rice farming.

And to do so, he offered to buy land from all the neighbouring households at a predetermined price, which some farmers accepted, but others including Abiero rejected. But despite the objections, he went ahead to release water, which covered all the demarcated area including Abiero’s 10 acre (4 ha) piece, submerging houses, thus driving everybody from their private properties regardless whether they sold it or not.

Today, despite a court ruling that was issued in favour of the residents, Abiero is among hundreds of residents who watch from afar as someone mint profits from what belongs to them.

“We have tried all we can, we have visited administration offices time and again, but nobody seems to be interested in our plight,” said Abiero. “It is in this regard, despite my age, I have volunteered to follow other women and shout from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro for the world to listen,” she said.

In another scenario in Malindi, along Kenya’s coastal line in Kilifi County, the story is no different. In 2001 for example, Chadi Charo Mwaringa, also a widow from Kanagoni Gundasaga village arrived home one day to a devastating reality. Her house, where she had been living with her late husband and children for decades had been pulled down by a salt mining company, which had allegedly bought the place.

“I got married here 40 years ago, and you can be sure very few local resident own land title deeds,” said the 67 mother of three grown up children. Along the entire coastal strip covering hundreds of thousands hectares of land, people have always lived a communal lifestyle for ages. The land has always belonged to the community, and not to particular individuals.

As a result, private developers have taken advantage to process title deeds for chunks of land, and used the legal document to forcefully evict residents from their ancestral homes.

“Lack of legal documents for land ownership is now the biggest problem in this area,” said Katana Fondo Biria, former area councilor who has not been able to process the title deed for his land due to bureaucracies, despite having served as a politician for five years from 1992.

Part of his land, including an airstrip which used to serve guests coming to his former Giriama Village Hotel has been taken over by a salt mining company.

“There are several cases of this nature in this area,” said Sifa Edward, who works for Malindi Rights Forum, a community based organisation that engages humanitarian organisations in an effort to solve the land equation in Malindi.

According to Philip Kilonzo, of ActionAid International Kenya, millions of people particularly women in the country and the entire continent are suffering due to land based injustices.

“Some cases are cultural, some are due to corrupt and inefficient systems, and others are political,” said Kilonzo.

It was based on these reasons that ActionAid, in collaboration with several other civil society organisations all over Africa organised for the ‘Mt. Kilimanjaro initiative’ whose aims is to create space for rural women to be able to participate in decision making processes about issues dear to them.

With access to and control over land and natural resources as an entry point, four regional caravans have already departed simultaneously from the North, South, East and Western Africa regions. This will culminate into a mass African rural women’s assembly and a symbolic ascent by a delegation of women.

The women plan to proclaim a charter of principles and demands specifically on women’s access to and control over their land.


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