Inheriting property: It’s time we focused more on consolidation than on distribution

Thursday June 30 2022

There is a growing tendency of some families distributing the deceased’s properties instead of developing them. PHOTO | FILE

By J.M. Lusugga Kironde

The idea to write on this topic was triggered by a number of events. It was reported in the media recently, that three children killed their 70 plus years old mother in Geita, in a feud over family land. The children wanted their share of the land, which the mother was not willing to cede. This reminded me, a few years back, when a son killed his mother so that he can inherit her house in the Sinza area of Dar es Salaam. I remember talking to a couple of youngmen who were complaining that their parents’ house was sitting on very valuable land. Buyers were ready but the parents were unwilling to sell and children were very unhappy about that.

Indeed, changes in the structure of neighbourhoods is many times triggered by demographic factors such as aging or passing on of owners, which may lead to younger generation coming in as new owners, or, selling and moving.

Such stories are common. The notion that the current young generation must distribute the wealth left behind by their parents, among themselves upon the latter’s passing on, is deep rooted.

In some rural areas, clan land gets subdivided among eligible heirs to ridiculously uneconomic sizes, especially if the potential heirs are many. The situation gets tense when off springs are from different mothers.

Much of the discussion about the law of inheritance in Tanzania has focused on discrimination, especially against women, when it comes to the apportioning of the property left behind by a patriarch or matriarch. That aside, the law is focused upon the distribution of the wealth of the person who is gone, especially land and other real property, among eligible heirs; not on consolidation of what was achieved by the late person, and building upon it for future prosperity.

It is rarely considered that the person who leaves behind substantive wealth, worked for it; and so in the same way, the current young generation can work for their wealth instead of getting nurtured to behave like the legendary hyena, waiting for the arm to drop.


We see this emphasis on distribution even in the Scriptures. In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), a father has two sons.

The younger son asks for his portion of inheritance from his father, who grants his son’s request. What does the son do with the wealth? He goes into far off countries and squanders it all. This could be because he had not worked for it. He had no qualms about it.

We see this attitude within our societies. Inheritance is about getting our portion; and as soon as we get that, we sell it, thus destroying the foundation laid by those who were there before us. We need to change.

Of course, there are societies in our midst, from whom you do no hear any squabbles on inheritance. A great grandfather may, have laid the foundation of what they have today. Successive generations have built on that, and that way, a family empire gets created. You cannot get to that level if your focus is on distributing; on fragmentation.

Thinking about consolidation, the words of Jimmy, the son of the late Mwai Kibaki, are instructive. Knowing that fighting over property of a deceased wealthy person is the order of the day in Kenya, with many people demanding the right to be included in the distribution, he assured the public that, in their case, that will not happen. I find it appropriate to reproduce what he said:

“He promised the country that there will be no family feuds over property in his father’s absence, like has been the case among prominent families when the patriarch or matriarch dies. We have no reason to start fighting; we’ve been brought up well. As his children, we do not view his property as ours. No. For, whatever wealth he has left, we only see ourselves as trustees for the next generation. Our duty is to increase what is there, not to fight over it”.

If we are to be like the Kibaki family, with regard to inheritance and family wealth, then we need to change. Children must be brought up with a clear education that they will need to act as trustees of what has been achieved, and they have a duty to build upon it, as they build their own wealth. They should be inspired by what was achieved by their predecessors, and be oriented to build on that. Family wealth should be created together as an enterprise, and systems need to be put into place to ensure its sustainability.

Our laws and cultural orientation should get us out of this attitude of kugawana mali za marehemu and instead our focus should be on kuendeleza mali za marehemu.