Journal of
Law and Conflict Resolution

  • Abbreviation: J. Law Conflict. Resolut
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2006-9804
  • DOI: 10.5897/JLCR
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 101

Full Length Research Paper

The impact of customary laws on inheritance: A case study of widows in Urban Uganda

Florence Akiiki Asiimwe1* and Owen Crankshaw2
1Department of Sociology, Makerere University, Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda. 2Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.  
Email: [email protected]

  •  Accepted: 13 December 2010
  •  Published: 30 January 2011


This study explores the ways in which widows in Kampala, Uganda are deprived of homeownership upon the death of their husbands. Homeownership through inheritance usually means that widows have the authority to register the home in their names and have the power to use and sell the home upon the death of their husbands. This study, which is based on life story interviews with widows in the middle-income areas of Kampala, found that women are prevented from inheriting the matrimonial home due to customary laws and practices. According to customary law, women may not own property and hence, upon the death of the husband, the ownership of his home is passed on to a male member of his family. In terms of statutory law, the Succession Act dictates that the matrimonial home is inherited by the eldest son of the deceased. Although there have been successful legal challenges which have shown the intestate succession law to be unconstitutional parliament has yet to change this law. The research findings show that widows can only inherit the matrimonial home under the following circumstances. Firstly, if a widow is the joint owner of the home, there are no legal and social obstacles that prevent her from inheriting her husband’s share of the home. Secondly, a widow can inherit the home if her husband stipulates it in his will. However, even if she is the sole beneficiary, unless the husband also appoints the wife as the sole executor of the will, the husband’s family can conspire to prevent her from inheriting the home.


Key words: Gender, homeownership, inheritance, widowhood, life story, succession act, customary law, executor