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The tough life of a young widow



Widowed at 21. Left with two young boys to feed, no source of income, uncooperative in-laws, rent to pay and a sanity to maintain.

Faced with those circumstances, Emma Waithera, now aged 43, had no option but to become a barmaid so she could get money to raise the two sons she had with her husband Jackson Macharia — a Gikomba-based businessman who died of electrocution in 1997.

After his burial in Murang’a county, she remembers, her in-laws only gave her Sh1,170 of the cash raised. She claims they pocketed the rest.

Between then and 2010 when she got “born again”, she worked in various pubs in Nairobi.

She would later turn to odd jobs like washing other people’s clothes to raise money to educate her sons.


Emma Waithera, who was widowed at 21, during an interview on June 20, 2019. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Today, Ms Waithera hawks watermelons in Nairobi’s Dandora Estate and has embraced a table banking project under a group called Muungano wa Wajane.

“My husband’s people rejected me,” she told Lifestyle.

She also recalled how long it took for it to dawn on her that she was a widow.

“It was not until last year that I accepted that I am alone. That’s when I accepted my situation. I used to think that my husband went on a journey and would come back. I never called myself a widow and I never wanted anyone to address me so. But now, I have accepted my situation,” said Ms Waithera.

As the world marks International Widows Day, Emma will be among millions of Kenyan women who will be in focus.

The death of their husbands leaves them at the mercy of their in-laws and introduces a host of new challenges in their lives. From our interviews, it emerged that in-laws are sometimes unwilling to integrate the widows due to the fear that they will remarry.

Mrs Ida Odinga, wife of ODM leader Raila Odinga, was raised by a widow and guides other widows, including the young Gatachew Bekele left behind by her son Fidel.

Given the challenges widows face, Mrs Odinga told Lifestyle of the need for the government to support the group.

“In the traditional society, a widow was supported in many ways. That support system does not exist any more. Therefore, somebody has to do something to support the widows,” she said.

The same way the government supports the disabled, she said, it can also find a way of integrating widows. But she said the long-term solution lies in empowering women.

“I always talk about the girl child. A girl should be empowered to an extent that even when she is married and by bad luck becomes a widow, she can still manage on her own,” said Mrs Odinga.

She added: “I am who I am today because of my mother, who was a widow. I saw her struggle, I saw her work, I saw her prayers and everything I was doing, I was doing it for my mother.”

Emphasising the need for empowerment of women is Mrs Bertha Gaitho, the founder and chairperson of Muungano wa Wajane, a community-based organisation registered in 2016 and which has about 4,500 widows across Kenya.

Mrs Gaitho said there is a need for women to be more proactive.

“Some are left with a lot of wealth but they don’t know how to manage it. You have to tell them not to be too ignorant,” she said.

“They should also learn new things. For instance, you will find a car left behind but we are not taught how to drive the car. We are not even interested as the man always drives,” added Mrs Gaitho, who is also the national chairperson of the AIPCA Council of Women.

In Meru County, lack of knowledge by widows cost them a lot, according to Mr Joseph Mutua, the programmes officer of Nyambene Widows Organisation.

“Unscrupulous in-laws move with speed to ensure they secure the death certificate, which is required in the succession process. They then corrupt their way in ensuring the widow is sidelined by the system,” Mr Mutia said.

Meru County has about 90,000 widows, according to Inua Mama Mjane, a non-governmental organisation

Bertha Gaitho, the founder of Muungano wa Wajane, an organisation that teaches table banking to widows who form groups across the country. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

One of the worst cases Mrs Gaitho has encountered while heading Muungano wa Wajane is of a woman who was turned into a sex object by her brothers-in-law after her husband died.

She said her husband’s three brothers, probably seeking a way to force her out, designed a “roster” where they took turns to sleep with her.

“It was like rape but she could not talk about it because she didn’t want the people around to know. She also didn’t want to pick quarrels with these people. And she had nowhere to go with her children,” narrated Mrs Gaitho.

Her organisation teamed up with well-wishers to rescue the woman. They rented for her a house and helped her start a business.

“One year later, she is doing well. The business has grown and I thank God that she is also an active woman. She is happy and has forgotten all the ills,” said Mrs Gaitho.

Today, Mrs Gaitho will be in Nyeri to attend the commemoration of the International Widows Day — an observance ratified by the United Nations in 2010 to happen every 23rd day of June to raise awareness on the human rights violations that widows suffer.

Members of Muungano wa Wajane, she said, requested that the celebrations be held outside Nairobi this year, as the last two have been held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.

“We hope the governor will be there, and his deputy. There are other leaders from other areas. We are expecting widows from Nyeri, Kiambu, Nairobi, Murang’a, Embu, Kirinyaga, Kajiado, Makueni, Nyandarua and other counties to attend,” she said on Thursday.

Mrs Gaitho, a widow of one-time African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) Archbishop Samson Gaitho, has overseen and held similar events in Nairobi on June 23 every year since 2016. Her organisation brings together widows, trains them on table banking, and helps them pool resources and give loans among themselves.

The chief guest at the 2017 celebration was First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, who told of the need to economically empower widows. Mrs Kenyatta said the number of widows is steadily rising at an alarming rate partly due to Aids, terrorism and armed conflict in some parts of the country.

Lifestyle brings you the perspectives of widows from various parts of the country, who also advised other women who lose husbands early in their marriages.

Loise Njoki, the widow of Paul Ngure who died in 2012, shows a haircut machine she uses at her barbershop in Ruiru, Kiambu County. She took over the barber business from her late husband. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Her husband Paul Ngure died in July 2012 when they had two sons; the younger one aged a year and nine months old.

Loise was 29 when Paul died of liver complications. They had married in 2003.

She recalls that it was war with her in-laws from the day the death occurred. A piece of land in Ruiru, Kiambu County, which they had bought in 2008 was suddenly at risk of being taken over by her in-laws.

This is despite the fact that the husband’s ancestral home is in Murang’a.

Luckily for her, the person who sold the land and their neighbours in Ruiru stood by her, which helped her keep her in-laws at bay. She still lives on that property and has even constructed a separate house for her elder son.

Her husband was a barber at a nearby shopping centre and she decided to take up his profession.

“He had taught me a little. When he died, I reasoned that it would be chaotic to employ someone because disputes would definitely arise. So I took over the task, alone. I became the sole barber, to date,” she said.

She has opted not to remarry, saying she chose to concentrate on raising the children she was left with.

“I often think I should raise those I was left with. God knows why Paul was the first to go,” said Loise.

Having reconciled with her in-laws last year, she sent her elder son to stay with them as he learns at a school in Murang’a County.

Loise described widowhood as a series of tests.

“One challenge is friends. Whenever you are seen talking with someone’s husband, you are perceived to be admiring that man and it becomes an issue. The friends you previously had isolate you. They don’t even want to see you being greeted by a man. No one remembers you were friends with that man before your husband died,” she said.

To those widowed at a young age, she advised them to chin up.

“Don’t be hated to the extent that you hate yourself. You should love yourself. And if someone has been widowed at a young age, she should first accept her situation. He is not coming back, so dust yourself up and start life anew. It is not the end of life,” said Loise.


Hannah Wairimu Kariithi at her chicken farm in Ruiru on June 2, 2019. She has been a widow since 2015. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Hannah’s husband Jesse Wairua died in 2015 due to blood pressure problems. She was left with three children aged 25, 16 and 3.

Jesse was an employee of the Kiambu County Government and when his benefits were released, she used the money to buy land near Ruiru where she built her house and chicken coops.

Widowhood, she said, places a woman at a disadvantage.

“Even in church, people don’t treat you like they do those who have husbands. They sometimes think you can grab their husbands. Sometimes they perceive you as someone with no money to give,” she said.

To raise money for the education of her children, she has been relying on the chicken farm and sale of second-hand clothes.

“If you’ve been left with children, you better believe they will eat. Because if you go sell tomatoes, onions, that day you are certain the children won’t sleep hungry; they will eat something. It is all about believing in themselves and trusting in God,” she advised those who have been widowed at a young age.

Jane became a widow on April 12, 2018, when her husband Barnaba Nyadiero passed on due to a blood clot in his brain. She was left with four children, the youngest aged 14. Jane, who runs a community-based organisation in Kibera, said widowhood comes with a certain kind of fear.

“It is a tough life. You are always scared. It brings death so close to home, and it makes you really scared,” she said.

There are also simple tasks which demand attention after the husband dies.

“You find yourself doing something which he could be doing. You only know how important a man is when he’s not there,” said Jane.

To those widowed at a young age, Jane said they should learn to stay focused.

“They must know what they want. They should not act as per other people’s wishes. They should not do anything to please the community or anybody else. They should know what they want and then they should be there for their children, because if the widow is perceiving that gap, what about the children who don’t have a father?” posed Jane.

Anne Gachoki, whose husband Ephraim, who was in the Kenya Airforce, died in Somalia in 2012. COURTESY| NATION

Anne was 27 years old when her husband, a soldier with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), died in Somalia during combat.

Ephraim Gachoki of 76 ARB died in the region of Fafadum in 2012. He was only 28 years old then and was buried in his ancestral home in Kirinyaga. She was left with their one-year-old daughter, now in Class Three.

Unlike most widows, however, Anne is glad that her in-laws never turned against her. She was full of gratitude to KDF for their widows’ welfare programme, advising spouses of KDF that there is hope after death of their loved ones.

“I’m receiving my husband’s gratuity, which is being given monthly,” she told Lifestyle, adding that her daughter is in a private school.

“It is difficult but possible to move on and the affected person should invest the little cash given. You can live on what has been paid as compensation,” she advised those in a similar situation.

Violet Kobia who almost lost her land. PHOTO | COURTESY

When Violet lost her husband in 2000, it took the intervention of then Eastern Provincial Commissioner and also Federation of Women lawyers (Fida) for her to get a share of the deceased’s land.

The in-laws had ganged up to ensure she did not inherit the land allocated to the late husband.

“I went to Fida who referred me to the Provincial Commissioner for assistance. The PC gave me a letter addressed to the District Commissioner with instructions that I get justice but it was trashed by the DC’s secretary,” she said.

“I later went back to the PC’s office where he called the DC over the phone and ordered him to address my problem urgently. After a long struggle, I was given the land. My late brother-in-law’s wives also benefited in the process,” she recounted.

Violet later founded the Come-together Widows and Orphans Organisation to advocate for the rights of vulnerable groups.

She told Lifestyle that, out of about 3,000 members of her organisation, 90 per cent have land-related problems.

“I realised that many widows lacked the knowledge I had when I pursued my husband’s land. Many women have been rendered homeless and poor because of land disputes. They cannot get land at their husband’s home, neither at their father’s,” she said.

“Most widows are rendered poor, hence they cannot pursue their land. Men who would want to help fear being implicated in rumours about moving in with the woman,” she added.

Regina’s husband, with whom she had two children, died in 2008. Several days after the burial, she claimed, her in-laws hired goons to evict her.

“I escaped with my children and came back to Laare town where I rented a house. When I tried to get help from the local chief, he also threatened to beat me up. I gave up the chase,” Regina said.

In November 2012, Ruth was in the news after she was kicked out of her late husband’s land by relatives.

“Even before we could bury my husband, the in-laws came and torched my house. They shared the loot and together with my six children, we sought refuge at the DO’s office. The chief, police and the DC could not help me,” she recalled.

Ruth, who was fairly wealthy due to a monthly income of about Sh400,000 from miraa sales, was instantly reduced to a pauper. Three children dropped out of school in the ensuing dispute.

“The body of my husband remained in the mortuary for six months. I had to seek help from the Eastern Provincial Police Officer (PPO) on the burial. I returned home on orders from the PPO but constant harassment, arrests and grabbing of my miraa farm forced me to leave,” Ruth recalled.

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Education PS revealed number of learners, teachers who tested positive for COVID-19




Education PS Belio Kipsang on Wednesday reported that 17 learners and 33 teachers have been infected with Covid-19 since schools re-opened.

Dr Kipsang stated that the cases had been recorded in 35 schools countrywide

He, however, clarified that the numbers are not worrying to the ministry and as such there are no plans to close the schools.

“We are not about to close schools unless advised by the Ministry of Health, but we are putting our heads together to work our modalities of reopening other classes,” the PS stated.

The PS further blamed the cases on parents, citing recent political campaigns as the breeding ground for the virus.

“Our challenge is our parents attending political rallies and other social gatherings without masks, let’s not blame our children, why tell us to achieve social distance in schools if parents are attending rallies without observing measures?” he posed.

Dr Kipsang was giving a report to the National Assembly Education Committee.

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Ole Sereni hotel win big in road reserve land case




The Kenya National Highways Authority has lost a case over a parcel of land on which the 5 Star Ole Sereni hotel was built.

According to court documents, the National Land Commission (NLC) awarded the hotel a notice to vacate the land on which a road to the Internal Container Depot in Nairobi is being built.

Justice Bernard Eboso, however, reversed NLC decision explaining that the owners of the hotel had not been granted a proper hearing.

He also observed that the commission had produced conflicting dates when the directors were offered a chance for a hearing.

In a gazette notice, the commission had claimed that it invited the directors between January 30, 2017 and February 2, 2017.

NLC’s verdict before the revocation, however, indicated that the directors had been invited on March 27, 2017.

In its defense, Ole Sereni argued that it had purchased the land in question from a company identified as Swan Carriers Limited in 2007.

“Upon acquiring the two properties, the applicant obtained relevant development approvals and established the hotel thereon.

“The development took about three years. Ole Sereni Hotel is a reputable facility in the hospitality industry,” the hotel’s representatives told the court.

In July 2017, the state revoked titles for 136 parcels of land it intended to acquire for the construction of the Southern Bypass.

The bypass connects Mombasa Road and the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway.

At the time, the state explained that it had ruled the parcels as belonging to the public after listening to several parties in the matter.

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Murkomen speaks how the BBI might end Raila’s political career




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The former Senate Majority Leader explained that the position of an imperial President could potentially lead to the end of Raila Odinga’s career.

“When you are making law, imagine your worst enemy as the person who will be implementing that it. I want to tell those who are pushing for an imperial presidency, please, just imagine your worst competitor as the next president.

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Murkomen went on to warn Deputy President William Ruto’s rivals not to support the revision of a section of the law stating that the DP’s camp has gone through the document and know what works for them and what does not work.

He added that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto are still together and people will be surprised when the next step is taken.

“Sisi si wapumbavu, tunakuangalia tunapanga tunasema iko nini hapo ndani. Ok hii si mzuri hii si mzuri lakini ata ikipita tutanyorosha hii na hii.

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The Senator went on to warn Raila Odinga’s supporters not to come back after the 2022 general elections to protest against the same change of law they are trying to implement forcefully.

“Let them not come after 2022 protesting against the very laws they are trying to implement forcefully,” he asserted.

In the BBI report, the presidential model of governance involves empowering the President to appoint a Prime Minister, which Murkomen pointed out as some of the privileges, which if bestowed upon his preferred presidential winner in 2022, could mark the downfall of his political rivals.

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