East Central Africa

Links to legal datasheets for countries in this region. Kenya I Tanzania

East and Central Africa

 The Region and Its History

                Islam was an integral part of the East African coastal culture by as early as 1000 CE. Islam arrived on the coast through contact with religious teachers, merchants and slave traders (Martin 1986; Oded 2000).   Along the eastern coast and the islands of Kenya and Tanzania, Islam became an important force by the 17th century and remains the dominant religion today.  The arrival of the Islamic religion and the concurrent Indian Ocean trade network helped to develop the coastal region into the distinct cultural and political entity known as the Swahili coast.  In the 17th century, this 2000-mile long coast came under the domination of the Sultan of Oman, who moved his capital to the island of Zanzibar in the 19th century.  In Zanzibar, many Omani families maintained their Arabian identity.  As the historian John Middleton argues, they were "true colonial rulers" who exploited the local people (1992:13).  Islamic law and customs flourished in this period and many Arabs and Indians immigrated to the island and the coast (Middleton 1992). 

                Islam spread to the rest of Eastern and Central Africa during the 19th century, first through teachers and religious leaders from Hadramaut in Yemen and from the Comoro Islands, and then later through the expansion of the slave trade inland from the coast.  Today, Muslims in Kenya represent approximately 20% of the total population of 30 million and in Uganda, 10% of the population of 23 million (Population Reference Bureau 2000).  The Muslim population in Tanzania is significantly higher, constituting 35-40% of the population of 35 million (Oded 2000; (Population Reference Bureau 2000)).   The higher population percentage in Tanzania is a result of the concentration of trade centers in Tanzania and the importance of Zanzibar in African-Arab trading.  Similarly, the Muslim population in Kenya is also concentrated an the coast and in the important trading centers of Mombasa, Malind and Lamu.  The Muslim minority in Uganda is concentrated in the southern part of the country and in Kampala, the capital; the majority are Swahili or African Muslims (Ofcansky 1996).    In Rwanda and Burundi, the practice of Islam is relatively new, introduced only in the 1900s, and Muslims in both countries count for less than 5% of the total populations of 6 million in Burundi and 7 million in Rwanda (Population Reference Bureau 2000).  Most Muslims in these two countries either converted to Islam themselves, or are the children or grandchildren of converts (Kagabo 1988). 

                Other than along the Swahili coast, Islam in Eastern and Central Africa is largely an urban religion, with sections of major cities identified as Muslim neighborhoods. Though there are considerable Muslim populations in this region, the individual communities are fragmented, generally either integrated into the larger population or living as separate communities.

                Most indigenous African Muslims in the region are Sunnis.   There is also a large Asian population, principally Shi'ite (Thobani 1984). Most of the Asians are the descendents of some  32,000 Indians who came to East Africa from 1896 to 1901 as indentured laborers working on the British construction of the Uganda Railway (Ofcansky 1996).  Another group of Asians descend from the Indian traders who also have been active along the coast since the 15th century, although it was not until the late 19th century that a significant number of Indians settled in East Africa.  The earliest Indian settlers lived and prospered on the island of Zanzibar under the Sultan.  When the Sultan first arrived in Zanzibar, there were only 300 to 400 Indians on the island.  By 1866, this number had grown to 6000 (Ofcansky 1996). 

Legal Practices and Institutions

                Legal codes within East Africa vary, although all give some form of recognition to Islam.  These legal recognitions often date back to the colonial era.  For example, in 1895, the British colonial government and the Sultan of Zanzibar reached an agreement to recognize and "preserve the Islamic way of life" (Oded 2000).                 

                In Kenya, the British implemented the familiar triple court system:  common law courts, customary or traditional courts, and Islamic sharia courts.   The Kenyan government abolished formal local customary courts in 1967, although anecdotal evidence shows that many people still emply traditional judicial mechanisms at the local level.  If both parties to a case are Muslim, then the dispute is adjudicated in Islamic courts and governed by Islamic law. (Women have traditionally been excluded from Islamic offices such as judge or prayer leader (Strobel, 1979.)  If one party is non-Muslim, then the case falls under the jurisdiction of the common law courts.   This system was codified in the 1963 constitution, although debates continue around the consolidating the three courts into one common system. 

                In Tanzania, the mostly non-Islamic mainland and the Muslim-dominated island of Zanzibar have separate legislative, executive and judicial institutions.   Except for the issue of marriage, both the mainland and Zanzibar have dual legal systems, consisting of statutory/civil laws and religious/customary laws.  In 1971, the Marriage Act consolidated family law under a uniform code which still recognizes Islamic unions and the right to polygamy.  However, Zanzibar is exempt from this uniform code and still maintains separate judicial administration for Muslims.  In addition, Tanzania enforces affirmative action for women (applying to both Muslim and non-Muslim women), which calls for 25% female representation at the local levels and 15% female representation in Parliament (Mukangara and Koda 1997).

Seclusion of Women / Purdah

                Practices of purdah vary greatly from group to group, ranging from little more than a nod to modesty in some areas to nearly complete seclusion among the coastal upper classes.  On the Swahili coast, from Kenya south through Tanzania, and including Zanzibar and other islands off the coast, women's seclusion and modesty have traditionally been extremely important, particularly among the upper classes (Sims 1984).  

                In Mombasa, Kenya, an Islamic city, class is closely linked withthe level of purdah, which in turn is closely linked with women's participation in making decisions in the society.  A movement in the early twentieth century illustrates this connection (Strobel 1976).   Before the 1920s, upper-class Muslim women maintained very strict seclusion. Poorer women, particularly those of slave status, did not. Their position in society required that they work. At the same time, it allowed them certain liberties that their wealthier counterparts did not enjoy. Among the activities engaged in by these women were certain dance performances at ceremonial gatherings. These dancers were not covered up and they were watched by everyone, including men. In the 1920s, young women of the upper classes began forming dance groups, which initially danced in only somewhat sheltered settings where men were not present. But, partially due to a fierce competition between these groups, they gradually moved into more and more public settings, eventually performing publicly and without their traditional coverings. When the dance craze died out, the two primary dance groups transformed into women's organizations, struggling for certain changes in women's position in society. Through this process, a generation of women grew accustomed to being out in public, deciding what they wanted and expressing their own perspectives.

                On the whole, the required level of seclusion depends on a variety of factors, including class, ethnicity and local community practices.   However a concern for women's modesty remains. On the Swahili coast, even women who are not secluded generally wear a full black robe which covers their other clothes when they go out in public.  Again, the level of seclusion is dependent on local context.  The anthropologist Peter C. Forster points out that Muslim women on Mafia Island are allowed greater social participation, even attending the main mosque with men.  However, among the nearby coastal Zaramo, women's  public participation  - religious, political and economic - is very much limited (Forster 1995).  The importance of preserving women's modesty is also legally recognized is some areas.  For example, in Kenya, married women are exempted from being photographed for national identity cards and school girls in state schools are allowed to remain veiled (Freeman 1993). 

                Regardless of what women must wear, there is some evidence of women's participation in public life.  In Kenya, there are two active Muslim women's associations that seek better education and training for women, but within a model of seclusion of women (Strobel 1976).    Also, in 1992, a Muslim woman ran for parliament for the Mombasa district, backing her claim to a right to run for office on Islam, chastising her critics to "read the holy book a fresh" (Tripp 1996:303).  In Tanzania, the leaders of the Tanzanian Media Women's Association are mostly Muslim, although it is not a specifically Islamic organization. (Tripp 1996).  This organization has spoken out on questions of inheritance laws, domestic violence and teen pregnancy, and has done educational work on starting non-governmental organizations.  Nonetheless, it appears that some Muslim Tanzanian women are still cut off from the public sector as a result of religious concerns.

     Theoretically, a Ugandan woman married under sharia law is required to keep even her face covered in public (Tamale and Okumu-Wengi 1995).  Similarly, she is not to speak in public without being asked to, nor is she to challenge her husband's opinions.  However, the existence and success of the Uganda Muslim Women's Association suggests that these presecriptions are not universally enforced.  Through thiet and sells her goods (Kagabo 1988).  The wives of wealthy men, however, are usually nearly completely secluded. They do not go out in public except to go to the mosque on Fridays, and no men outside their families see them at any other time.

      Female circumcision (exicision of the clitoris and in some places, infibulation) is widespread in Kenya, Tanzania and parts of Uganda. Although Tanzania has prohibited the practice, there is little enforcement (M2 Presswire 2000;  Hosken, 1982).

                Overall, women in East Africa, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are disadvantaged and face multiple obstacles compared to men.   The overwhelming obstacle is poverty.  All of the countries except Kenya rank in the low human development category in the 1999 Human Development Report publised by the United Nations Development Programme.    When taking gender empowerment (a UNDP measure that accounts for women's social options, status and power) into consideration, all again except Kenya rank in the bottom twenty countries in the world (UNDP 1999).  The difficulty in obtaining quality education is also a major obstacle for East African women. For example, in Tanzania, women accounted for only 37% of all students registered in public secondary schools from 1982-1990 (Rwebangira 1996).

Family in the Region

                The lineage patterns in this region differ widely, even among culturally and ethnically similar groups. The most consistent are the Asians, who are almost exclusively patrilineal (Thobani 1984).  The Swahili vast majority of Swahili are also patrilineal (Middleton 1992).

                The Bantu groups in central Tanzania, about half of whom are Muslims, tend to be matrilineal (Brain 1984).  In recent years, it appears that in some areas, this pattern is changing toward an emphasis on paternal ties.  The northern Bantu population, about one-third of whom profess Islam, is mostly patrilineal (Brain 1984).  However, in one cluster of northern Bantu groups, where Muslims make up about half the population, descent follows maternal lines (Kikopa 1981).  For example, the Luguru, an ethnic group in northeastern Tanzania which is approximately 85% Muslim,  are matrilineal (Olson 1996). However, government regulations concerning land, property and personal status within the family are increasingly shifting family organization toward patrlineal patterns.


                Both the Asians and the Swahili in East and Central Africa practice some form of paternal first cousin marriage, though it appears to be more common among the Swahili (Thobani1984; Middleton 1992)  The upper-class Swahili of the region traditionally encouraged first cousin marriage, whereas among the Swahili slave population, it was standard to marry either a slave of the same slave owner, or a slave of a family tied to that slave owner by marriage (Romero 1988).

                In Tanzania, a 1971 law incorporated customary and religious marriage into a uniform marriage code, giving both customary and Islamic marriages state sanction, but also subjecting them to state regulation, which include protections for women (Freeman 1993).  The law stipulates that 1) marriages must be registered as monogamous or polygamous and cannot be changed;  however, marriages are not considered invalid if they are not registered., 2) marriage must be voluntary by both the man and woman, theoretically prohibiting forced or arranged marriages, 2.) women who cohabit with a man for two years have the legal rights of wives; 4.) bridewealth is no longer a requirement for a marriage to be legal; and 5.) corporal bunishment by either spouse was outlawed (Bryceson 1995).    The Tanzanian government recognizes four types of marriages:  1.) monogamous Christian marriage, 2.) polygynous Muslim marriages, 3.) civil marriages (which are understood to be potentially polygynous), and 4.) traditional/customary marriages (which are also understood to be potentially polygynous) (Mukangara and Koda 1997).  However, the Marriage Act explicitly states that it supercedes both Islamic and customary law in regulation of all four types of marriage (Rwebangira 1996).  The Marriage Act guarantees women's rights to property required on her own, as well as rights to matrimonial assets.  Furthermore, the law requires judges to take domestic activities into account as contributions to marital assets (Mukangara and Koda 1997).  Despite these legal protections,  Felician Tungaraza argues that the law has not produced consistent or effective results.  Most people fail register marriage, and few women are financially or socially able to pursue court remedies.   When women  who do go to court, judges with traditional attitudes toward women seldom uphold or enforce the women's rights outlined in the law (Tungaraza 1995).

                Among the matrilineal Luguru in Tanzania, cross-cousin marriages are traditionally the ideal.  It is unclear whether this is due to religious considerations or the desire to keep land firmly within a given lineage (Kikopa 1981). Many groups in Uganda, both Islamic and non-Islamic,  practice the levirate, by which the brothers of a deceased husband inherit his widows as their wives (US Department of State 1998). Among Muslims in Rwanda and Burundi, the only preference among marriage partners seems to be for another Muslim, as might be expected, given how small the communities are (Kagabo 1988).

                Throughout the region, the average age for a woman's first marriage is between 19 and 22. Each of the countries have laws concerning the minimum age for marriage, generally around 15 for girls.  In practice, these age minimums vary by custom and religion, with Muslim girls often marrying younger than their other contemporaries.  For example, in Uganda, minimum marriage ages for those entering customary unions is 16 for girls and 18 for boys.  However, in Islamic unions in Uganda, girls can be married after entering puberty, which is usually around 13 or 14 (Fiedler 1998).  Similarly,  on the coastal islands, particularly among the poor, girls are marriageable shortly after reaching puberty (Romero 1988). In Tanzania, the minimum marriage age for girls in 15, although the average age of marriage in 1994 was 23 for women and 25 for men (Mukangara and Koda 1997).

                The conflict between education and early marriage has become a public debate in Tanzania (Mnzavas 1997).  In 1997, an arranged marriage under Islamic law between a member of parliament and a girl still in school was highly publicized in Tanzania.  Human rights advocates and lawyers began calling for a law banning marraiges of school girls as well as increased enforment of the 1978 Education Act, which requires parents and the government to provide seven years of compulsory education through age 13.  Robert Makaramba, a law faculty member at the University of Dar es Salaam,  argues that even if Islamic marriage laws allow for marriages of young girls, the Education Act prohibits such marriages.  Early marriage is one of the factors contributing to Tanzanian women's low literacy rates; the enrollment ratio of girls to boys declines with each year in school, with a primary school dropout rate for girls of 30-40% (US Department of State 1998).

      In Kenya, girls who are the children of Islamic or customary marriages in Kenya can be legally married off by their guardian before puberty (Mucai-Kattambo et.al. 1995).  The girl then has the right to repudiate the marriage upon reaching puberty. The practice of child marriages is diminishing and there is a general sense that early marriage is not good for the girls.  Some of the girls who leave their first marriage at puberty have started returning to school to finish their education.

Dowry and brideprice

                Traditional sharia law requires that the dower (mahr) be paid for a marriage contract to be considered valid.  Further, once paid, the dower is considered the sole property of the women to use any way she sees fit.  Among Asians in East Africa, dowry is considered a necessary requirement for marriage (Thobani 1984)  They also often pre-arrange alimony at the same time, in case of divorce.

                Among the coastal Swahili and the matrilineal Luguru of mainland Tanzania,  it is customary for the groom to provide two payments.  The first payment is representative of the Islamic mahr and is given to the bride.  In the case of the Luguru, this payment is often give by the bride to her maternal grandmother (Kikopa 1981).  The second payment if more of a customary African practice of providing a  brideprice for the bride's family (Romero 1988)  The bride's family, in turn, is expected to provide furniture and other household necessities for the new married couple. The brideprice is sometimes foregone if the bride is marrying into a prestigious family in the religious community (Romero 1988).  As is typical of many Islamic and non-Islamic East African groups, if the couple divorces, the brideprice is not returned to the groom.

                In Rwanda and Burundi, the future husband must pay brideprice to the bride's male guardian, again representative of traditional African marriage patterns (Kagabo 1988).  This is the same practice as among the Christians, which is not surprising given that many families include both Muslims and Christians.


                Divorce practices seem to largely be determined by the customs of each country.  However frequently the law has different requirements for Muslims or people married under customary law, than for those married under civil law.   Islamic family law  in the region recognizes three methods of divorce or marriage dissolution:  1) talaq or repudiation by the husband; 2) khula or mubaraat, separation by mutual agreement; and 3) tafriq:  judicial order of separation  In addition, Islamic courts a requires maintenance for women during in her iddat (waiting period) after divorce (Nasir 1990).

                In Kenya, if a couple is married under sharia law, the husband can divorce his wife by talaq (Mucai-Kattambo et.al. 1995).  After a divorce, the woman has a right to maintenance for a three-month period.  In order to divorce his wife, a man does not have to give any reason; in contrast a woman may only initiate a divorce for three reasons: her husband's inability to consummate the marriage; his failure to provide for her; and, if the woman was married as a child, she can repudiate her husband when she reaches puberty (Mucai-Kattambo et.al. 1995)  In the 1970s, legislation was introduced into Parliament which would have allowed a woman to seek a divorce in the case of irreparable breakdown in a marriage. This bill, which was supported by male Muslim leaders, but was opposed by the Muslim women's association, did not pass (Strobel 1976).

                In Tanzania, talaq is the most common way for a man to announce that he wants a divorce (Kikopa 1981).  A divorce is not finalized, however, until the couple has met with the state-run Marriage Conciliatory Board and there has been a court decree of divorce.  It appears that divorced women do not face social pressure to remarry.  The 1971 Marriage Act requires that all divorces be made final in civil court.  The goal of this requirement was to decrease the rate of divorce.  However, the legal requirements for obtaining divorce have not had this effect.  As Tungaraza points out, 1.43% of the population aged 10 and above was divorced in 1978; by 1988, this percentrage had grown close to 4% (1995).  The marriage law provides no clear-cut provision for the division of matrimonial assets and many unemployed women end up with nothing. (M2 Presswire 1998). Further, because many marriages are not initially registered and subsequently not officially dissolved, women have little basis for legal demands of marital property or legal remarriage (Freeman 1993).

                For the Luguru, until the 1970s, divorce was a simple and common matter, initiated by both men and women (Kikopa 1981).  It appears that changes in Tanzanian law, rather than adherence to Islam, have made divorce more difficult for Luguru women to obtain. In Uganda divorce by repudiation is allowed and quite common (Tamale and Okumo-Wengi 1995).  Muslim women basically have no statutory right in Uganda to maintenance after the divorce, though on occasion they can get orders from the court requiring it.  Even when this order is obtained, the sums are insignifant and rarely collected.  Ugandan civil law allows men to divorce their wives on the grounds of adultery, while women must prove that their husbands are guilty of at least two marriage offenses to be granted a divorce (Freeman 1993).

                The informality of Muslims' weddings in Rwanda and Burundi is matched by lack of ceremony for divorce. Frequently couples just separate and remain married but do not see each other for years or even decades (Kagabo 1988).  Sometimes even close family members do not know whether a couple is actually divorced or not.  Women are not subjected to strong societal pressures to remarry.


                Throughout the region, laws provide for a variety of marriage regimes, usually civil, customary and Islamic, but the way in which individuals negotiate through these systems differs from country to country.   Most African societies are traditionally polygynous, although the practice has declined in the last century as a result of colonization and conversion to Christianity (Tungaraza 1995).

                The two largest Muslim majority groups in the region, Asians and Swahili, have two very distinct patterns of marriage. The Asian populations allow for polygyny, but rarely actually practice it (Thobani 1984).  In Swahili culture, polygyny is common, though it is unusual for a man to have four wives (Sims 1984).  Among men who do have more than one wife, there is little uniformity of living arrangements. Each wife may live separately from the others and from her husband, who circulates between his wives' households, or they may all live together, with the first wife being treated as an elder.

                In Tanzania, if the groom is Muslim, the couple may choose either the civil or the Islamic marriage regime (Kikopa 1981).  If they choose the Islamic model, it is assumed that the marriage is either polygynous or potentially so.  The Luguru, the matrilineal Muslim group discussed above, also practice polygyny (Kikopa 1981).  Traditionally, if a Luguru man married more than one woman, each wife lived on the land of her own lineage, and the husband visited each in turn.  Government policies in the 1970s encouraged men and women both to be more involved in the economic life of a specific village, resulting in a change to the tradition of polygynous men moving between their wives. Thus, polygynous men and their wives began residing in the same household and women therefore had to leave their own lineage's land.  It is unclear how government changes since that time have affected the residence choices of the Luguru.

                Kenyan laws regulate Islamic and customary marriages together, treating them largely the same way.  In both systems polygyny is legal. Nonetheless, there are certain differences in the way the state relates to first wives and subsequent wives, often discriminating against the latter (Mucai-Kattambo et. al. 1995).  For example, payments for national health insurance are ordinarily taken out of a man's salary for both himself and his wife. If however, a man has two wives, the second wife's insurance premiums are not automatically deducted from her husband's salary, leaving her uncovered by the health service. Though it is possible to ask for her payments to be deducted as well, this rarely happens, a problem attributed to limited knowledge of the insurance system (Mucai-Kattambo et. al. 1995)  It is not clear which of the spouses would have the ability or the responsibility to ensure that the wives were all covered by health insurance.

                Ugandan law assumes that all marriages entered into by Muslims are governed by sharia and allows for polygyny, whatever the couple's individual preferences may be (Tamale and Okumu-Wengi 1995).   Approximately 40-50% of all unions in Uganda are polygynous (Women's Watch 1998).  Further, a wife has no legal status to prevent her husband from taking another wife (US Department of State 1998).   Recently, in response to the AIDS epidemic, the Ugandan Parliament proposed limiting polygyny to two wives and then only if the first wife was barren and consented to the second marriage. The loudest outcry against the proposed law came from the Muslim population (All Africa News Service 1998).  They argued that polygyny was part of their religion and that even if they did not actually practice it, they must be allowed to do so if they chose. They also announced that they would ignore the provision if it passed into law.

                Rwandans, who are predominantly Christian (only about 1% or 2% of the population is Muslim), generally frown on polygyny. However, among the Muslims, polygyny is almost universally practiced by those men who can afford to have multiple wives (Kagabo 1988).  Marriages in the Muslim community have traditionally not been registered with the state and are sometimes carried out without an imam.  It appears that Muslims have begun marrying more in accordance with Rwandan law since the 1970s (Kagabo 1988).  It should be noted however, that because there are so few Muslim Rwandans, information about them is necessarily anecdotal.

Custody of Children

                 Custody practice is clearest in Uganda, where the father has custody rights for any child no longer breast-feeding (Tamale and Okumu-Wengi 1995).  When women do retain custody, Ugandan civil law entitles women to 2000 Ugandan shillings per month per child in maintenance, but women are rarely able to collect this fee. (Fiedler 1998).  

                In Tanzania, custody is governed by civil law, regardless of the type of marriage. The 1963 Law of Persons Act declared that children born inside marriage belonged to the father (Rwebangira 1996).  However, the 1971 Marriage Act requires custody to be decided in the best interest of the child, but routinely defers to custom in individual cases (Freeman 1993).  Prior to 1971, custody of Muslim children was administered under Islamic Law;  however, the uniform codification of the Marriage Act included child custody regulations.  Practically, if a woman files for custody, the father will not contest the motions.  However, in absence of contestation, the father generally gets custody.  Further, the Marriage Act provides that a father is responsible for maintenance of children until 18 years of age, regardless of custody (Rwebangira 1996)

                Custody patterns also vary depending on local lineage patterns. Among the matrilineal Muslims, the child belongs to his or her mother and her lineage, and remains with the mother in case of divorce.  If the mother dies, the child still remains with the members of the matriline and is usually maintained by a maternal uncle (Kikopa 1981).

                While most family laws addressing the children assume a married context, the predominantly Muslim island of Zanzibar also regulates the conception of illigitimate children.  Although not directly related to child custody, a law enacted in the 1960s makes it a criminal offense to conceive a child outside of marriage (Mbogora 1999).  The maximum penalty for this crime is two years imprisonment for women and up to five years imprisonment for men.  Further, any method of family planning, including condoms, is prohibited in Zanzibar and also subject to criminal prosecution.  These laws do not apply to the mainland of Tanzania.

Inheritance/Land Rights

     Throughout Eastern and Central Africa, customary practices frequently override laws, both statutory and Islamic, that, in theory, protect women's right to inherit.

                In Kenya, Muslims are exempt from the national Law of Succession Act, which provides for equal inheritance between men and women (Mucai-Kattambo et.al. 1995).  Instead, Muslims inherit according to Qur'anic prescriptions. In terms of property rights more generally, a married couple does officially have equal ownership for most kinds of property, whatever marriage regime they have chosen.  However, ownership rights may not be equal in practice as fewer women have access to legal protection of those rights due to financial hardships or lack of education about their rights (Mucai-Kattambo et.al. 1995).  Further, married women are required to have the authorization of their husbands when buying land (FEMNET 1992).  Muslim women protested against a proposed civil rights bill in 2000 that would have given equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters, arguing that the bill would controvene sharia (Asill 2000).

                In Tanzania, inheritance is governed by three different legal frameworks:  customary, Islamic and statutory.  Customary laws are applied in most inheritance cases involving Africans.   Custom differs between ethnic groups, but generally excludes the widow (Rwebangira and Mukogoye 1995).  Whereas daughters in non-Muslim patrilineal groups almost never inherit land, or inherit only use rights, they may fare better in Muslim communities (Kikopa 1981).  In fact, as Mukangara and Koda argue, Muslim women have greater rights to inheritance claims if the estate is administered under Islamic law than if administered under customary law.  Under Islamic inheritance rights, wives are entitled to 1/4 of the assets if the couple has no children, and 1/8 if children are present.  If a man had more than one wife, these shares are divided equally among the wives (Nasir 1990).  Though Tanzanian law assumes that all Muslims are married under sharia law, it makes the opposite assumption about inheritance.  For sharia inheritance law to apply, it must be shown that the deceased was a Muslim, that he or she had left oral or written instructions that Islamic law should govern the distribution of the estate, and that the person lived in a way that demonstrated an intent that the estate be divided according to Islamic prescriptions (Kikopa 1981).  If any of these conditions is judged to be missing, customary law applies.  Although the Tanzanian constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex or religion, these protections are not enforced in cases of customary inheritance.  Moreover, the 1971 Marriage Act provides for inheritance and property rights for women.  However, as stated earlier, application of these provisions depends on the status and wishes of the head of the household.  As a result, women's legal inheritance rights are commonly ignored, particularly in rural areas (US Department of State 1998).

    The Luguru provide one clear example of customary inheritance law in a Muslim community. Clearly, as the Luguru have a matrilineal society, their law should not be viewed as representative of customary law of inheritance throughout the country, but merely as one example. In the past, land belonged to the lineage, and each member of the lineage had the right to live on and cultivate the land (Kikopa 1981).  In the case of divorce or death, the land reverted to the lineage. If there were no children, the house, as property of the couple, would be demolished and the materials divided up between the two families.  Houses are no longer destroyed; rather, whichever spouse will remain in the house compensates the other (or his or her lineage) for building materials.  Though the practice is illegal, it appears that when a woman's husband dies, frequently the deceased husband's relatives will force the widow out of the house without any compensation at all.  If a man acquires property other than the land of his or his wife's lineages, on his death it is inherited by his sister or, if he has no sister, his wife. On the death of this woman (the sister or the wife), the inheritance passes to her sons, and on their deaths to her daughters (Rwebangira and Mukogoye 1995).   There is a trend in recent years, however, for inheritance to be more patrilineal, with a man's children inheriting from him directly, often with a bias toward the sons.

                Ugandan law allows women married under sharia law to inherit according to Islamic prescriptions (Tamale and Okumu-Wengi 1995).  However, in Uganda customary practices usually take precedence over either civil or religious laws, and women are, for the most part excluded from inheriting or owning property generally.


 All Africa News Service.  April 6, 1998.  "Polygamy Contributing to AIDS Deaths in Uganda." Africa News.

Astill, James. 11/21/2000.  "Kenyan Leaders to Block 'Divisive' Equal Rights Bill."  The Guardian. 

Brain, James.  1984.  "Bantu, Central Tanzania."   ed. Richard V. Weekes.  Second edition.  Westport (CT):  Greenwood Press.

Bryceson, Deborah F.  1995.  "Gender Relations in Rural Tanzania:  power politics or cultural consensus?"  Gender, Family and Household in Tanzania.  ed. Colin Creighton and C.K. Omari.  Aldershot (UK):  Ashgate Publishing.

FEMNET News.  1992.  Country Summaries.  Harare (Zimbabwe):  African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

Fiedler, Anne Akia.  December 8, 1998.  "Women ???Uganda:  Uganda Debates Marital Rights...and Wrongs."  Interpress News Service.

Forster, Peter G.  1995. "Anthropological Studies of Kinship in Tanzania. "Gender, Family and Household in Tanzania.  ed. Colin Creighton and C.K. Omari.  Aldershot (UK):  Ashgate Publishing.

Freeman, Marsha.  1993.  Human Rights in the Family.  International Women's Rights Action Watch.

Hosken, Fran P.  The Hosken Report. third ed.  Women's International Network News:  1982.  

Kagabo, Jose Hamim.  1988.  L'Islam et les Swahili au Rwanda.  Paris:  Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

Kikopa, Jane Rose.  1981.  Law and the Status of Women in Tanzania.  Addis Ababa:  African Training and Research Center for Women.

M2 Presswire.  7/2/1998. "UN:  Tanzanian Report before Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee." M2 Communications.

Martin, B.G.  1986.  "The Spread of Islam."  Africa.  Second edition.  ed. Phyllis M.

Martin and Patrick O'Meara.  Bloomington (IN):  Indiana University Press.

Mbogora, Alfred.  January 20, 1999.  "Rights in Tanzania:  Jail Terms for Pregnancy Out of Wedlock."  Interpress Service.

Middleton, John.  1992.  The World of the Swahili:  An African Mercantile Civilization.  New Haven (CT):  Yale University Press.

Mnzavas, Asha.  September 17, 1997.  "Tanzania:  Call for a Ban on Child Marriages."  Interpress Service.

Mucai-Kattambo, Vivky W., Janet W. Kabeberi-Macharia, Patricia Kameri-Mbote.  1995.  "Law and the Status of Women in Kenya." in  Women, Laws, Customs and Practices in East Africa:  Laying the Foundation.  ed. Janet W. Kabeberi-Macharia.  Nariobi:  Women and Law in East Africa.

Mukangara, Fenella and Bertha Koda.  1997.  Beyond Inequalities:  Women in Tanzania.  Dar es Salaam:  Tanzania Gender Networking Programme and Southern African Research and Documentation Center.

Nasir, Jamal J.  1990.  The Islamic Law of Personal Status.  2nd. edition.  London:  Graham and Trotman.

Oded, Arye.  1984.  "Ganda."  Muslim Peoples:  A World Ethnographic Survey.  ed.

Richard V. Weekes.  Second edition.  Westport (CT):  Greenwood Press.

Oded, Arye.  2000.  Islam and Politics in Kenya.  Boulder (CO):  Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Ofcansky, Thomas P.  1996.  Uganda:  Tarnished Pearl of Africa.  Boulder (CO):  Westview Press.

Population Reference Bureau.  2000.  http://www.prb.org/

Romero, Patricia.  1988.  "Mama Khadija:  A Life History as an Example of Family History."Life Histories of African Women.  Atlantic Highlands (NJ):  Ashfield Press Ltd.

Rwebangira, Magdalena and M.C. Mukogoye.  1995.  The Law of Inheritance in Tanzania.Nairobi:  Women and Law in East Africa.

Rwebangira, Magdalena K.  1996.  The Legal Status of Women and Poverty in Tanzania.  Uppsala (Sweden):  Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.

Sims, Michael.  1984.  "Swahili."  ed. Richard V. Weekes.  Second edition.  Westport (CT):  Greenwood Press.

Strobel, Margaret.  1976.  ":From Lelemama to Lobbying:  Women's Associations in Mombasa, Kenya."  Women in Africa:  Studies in Social and Economic Change.  ed. Nancy J. Hafkin and Edna G. Bay.  Stanford (CA):  Stanford University Press.

  -  Muslim Women in Mombassa, 1890-1975. New Haven, Yale University Press. 1979.

Tamale, Sylvia and Jennifer Okumo-Wengi.  1995.  "The Legal Status of Women in

Uganda." Women, Laws, Customs and Practices in East Africa:  Laying the Foundation.  ed. Janet W. Kabeberi-Macharia.  Nariobi:  Women and Law in East Africa.

Thobani, Akbarali H.  1984.  "Asians of East Africa." ed. Richard V. Weekes.  Second edition.Westport (CT):  Greenwood Press.

Tripp, Aili Mari.  1996.  "Urban Women's Movements and Political Liberalization in East Africa."  Courtyards, Markets, City Streets:  Urban Women in Africa.  ed. Kathleen Sheldon.  Boulder (CO):  Westview Press.

Tungaraza, Felician S.K.  1995.  "The Family and Social Policy in Tanzania" in  Gender, Family and Household in Tanzania.  ed. Colin Creighton and C.K.  Omari.  Aldershot (UK): Ashgate Publishing.

U.S. Department of State.  1998.  Tanzania Country Report for Human Rights Practices for 1998.Washington, D.C.:  United States Government.

U.S. Department of State.  1998.  Uganda Country Report for Human Rights Practices for 1998.  Washington, D.C.:  United States Government.

United Nations Development Programme.  1999.  1999 Human Development Report.  New York: United Nations Development Programme.