Nigerian rural women farmers joined over 300 other women all over Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in demand for a just and equitable distribution of farm lands in Africa. Assistant Editor, Seun Akioye who joined the women at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro reports.
There is something disturbing about the eyes of Anne Ambayi anytime she talks about her difficult life in Nyanza province of Kenya. Even though, Anne narrates a biter experience, there was nothing in her eyes that speaks of her true feelings. There was no bitterness in her eyes, neither was there forgiveness.
The story of Anne’s struggle with the culture of the Luo people of Nyanza province began in the year 2000 when her husband Steven Ambayi died. It was not his death that crashed her life but that he died of the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
Anne tested positive too. But it was not contracting the disease that became her immediate problem and struggle; it was the fight against one of the most entrenched cultures in Africa: The inheritance culture.
“I have not been inherited,” Anne said with an expression that was difficult to decipher. “A widow has no right to own any farm or plant anything until she has been inherited, at the death of your husband, you must take a man to have sexual relationship with you. For you to be able to plant in the Shamba (land) there must be a man who will be having sex with you even though you don’t marry him.
“Especially when you want to plant, harvest, that is the culture. My husband died in 2000 and I have not been inherited because of HIV Aids. That time it was very much affecting people, my husband died of HIV Aids and I felt that maybe I am positive and I will infect a man, I decided to go for a test and I decided to stay like that. From that time I have been living alone with my kids, been without a man has brought a lot of trouble in my life.”
Anne’s problems were compounded because she had no male child, her three female children also stands disinherited and the only way to feed her family is to allow a man turn her into a sex slave so she could have access to land, to plant, and to harvest. “That is the culture of the Luo people,” she said.
After the death of her husband, her in-laws insisted on her being “inherited”, her refusal made them come to eject her forcefully from the Shamba. “One morning they came, with knives and cutlass, I didn’t know what to do so I gathered my three children and we started shouting, we were screaming so the community came, people prevailed over them and they left us. For one year, I didn’t farm, my children were without food, I was washing clothes to survive,” she said and for the first time, her eyes revealed a weakness. She smiled.
The second year, hunger drove her back to the Shamba and she started planting, groundnut, millet and vegetables. “ I thought they would kill me, I was ready for anything, but when they saw me on the land, they just left me alone,” she said with another smile, it was a smile of victory.