Change is “on air” in Kenya

Wednesday, 1st March 2017

When it comes to changing deep-seated attitudes and practices in a community, the first thing to understand is how to engage that community and its influencers – where do they get their information? Who has the communities "ears"?  

This is exactly the approach taken in Kenya, where a popular local radio station broadcast a call-in show to raise the awareness of elders and interact with community members on the importance of changing discriminatory land laws and inheritance practices.  

As described in a recent case study published by ILC, inheritance of land and property in Kenya follows traditional practices which negatively affect women, children and people with disabilities.  In many communities across Kenya,  including the Kisii and Luo communities,  women are denied inheritance after the passing of a husband or close relative, gifting the land to the nearest male relative of the deceased. After the death of a male family head, women, children and people with disabilities are left to the mercy of the nearest male relatives or community members.

With the drafting and  approval of Kenya ‘s new constitution in 2010, the Environment Liaison Centre International (ELCI) saw an opportunity  to push for more inclusive reforms and practices for marginalised groups.

By partnering  with lawyers and the Council of Elders, nearly 70% of the recommendations they submitted to improve the quality of inheritance rights were included in the different legal reforms.

To raise elders’ awareness, ELCI engaged a renowned elder, Professor Gilbert Ogutu, as co-facilitator of advocacy events, meetings and radio talk shows.  With his clear understanding of Kenya's traditional values and the formal justice system, Professor Ogutu  was able to engage with the elders and gradually convince them that these traditional practices were harmful for their communities – some of them becoming advocates for land rights for vulnerable groups.

Particularly effective was his role as a host of a local radio programme. With a call-in format, rural villagers were given 40 minutes to ask questions on inheritance practices in the local language.  ELCI estimates that there were more than one million listeners, with the show frequently going over by one hour due to the high number of call-ins. Several senior government officers also participated in a few episodes to answer questions from community members.

Thanks to ELCI and the smart use of traditional communication methods, an enormous contribution has been made in improving the lives of women, children and people with disabilities across Kenya.  With the laws intact and active, they now know their rights in regards to land ownership, which has increased activism for their rights across the nation. 

The case study “Protecting property inheritance rights of widows, children and people with disabilities” is part of the ILC's database of Good Practices. Learn, share and be inspired!