KAMPALA, UGANDA – For more than 20 years, Sauda lived under constant fear that her home, land and business would be taken by her abusive stepson. But this week the widow finally has peace after a Ugandan judge ruled in her favor and protected her rights to her land.
"This was a long-awaited victory for Sauda," says IJM Kampala Deputy Field Office Director Kathryn Wilkes. "Today we rejoice that Sauda will finally be able to use the land to provide for herself and her family!"
Years of Violent Threats
Years ago, Sauda and her husband sold coffee and vegetables and rented out a few rooms in their small home, earning just enough to meet their basic needs. But when her husband died in 1991, Sauda remembers, "That's when our lives changed."
"I am going to break down her house and show her who I am."
--Sauda's stepson, who threatened the widow for years trying to steal her home
Immediately after the funeral, Sauda's adult stepson began pressuring her to abandon her home – which would not only leave her without shelter, but also without an income, since she would no longer be able to rent out her rooms. He had a reputation for stealing people's land, and neighbors warned Sauda to leave the land for her own safety. Her stepson threatened her constantly and brought powerful local leaders onto his side. He even convinced a local court to order Sauda's eviction—built on a string of lies and false documents.
Sauda was scared, but she knew she had nowhere else to go. She relied on income from renting the rooms to support her four children and young grandchildren. With the help of a local legal aid organization, she stood up to her stepson in court, and he eventually abandoned his claims.
But years later—after being held in jail for stealing property from another widow—Sauda's stepson returned again to threaten her, this time more seriously than ever. He told people, "I am going to break down her house and show her who I am."
Sauda felt helpless and worried he would attack her family at any moment.
A Long Battle for Justice
A local government official saw Sauda's fear and referred her to IJM Kampala for help. IJM attorneys quickly filed a case against the abusive stepson and stood up for Sauda's rights to her home and land. IJM social workers counseled her and helped support her family. But after a year in court, the magistrate ruled in favor of the stepson—likely swayed by the man's wealth and power.
Sauda feared she would become homeless, but IJM refused to give up. Attorneys appealed to a higher court in 2010, hopeful that the new judge would see the truth.
"Overturning a lower court's decision is extremely difficult," says Wilkes, "but Sauda and the IJM team persevered."
On November 20, 2013—after three years in court—the judge ruled that the property rightfully belongs to Sauda and her stepson cannot threaten her anymore.
Fighting for Truth
IJM Kampala Director of Aftercare Claire Rusoke celebrated the judgment with Sauda that day. Dancing and laughing with the joyful widow, Claire said, "I've never seen her smile like this before."
"I was fighting for what was rightfully mine. I was fighting for truth.”
--Sauda, on the day she was finally declared rightful owner of her home
"I feel so much joy," Sauda says. "Others told me to give up hope, but IJM believed in me. Without IJM, I would never have succeeded in this case."
Free from her stepson's threats, Sauda now feels like she has peace. She now lives in a new home that her children built for her. Due to her age, she is no longer able to farm her land, but IJM gifted her with 200 chickens which are thriving and provide her with an income. Sauda is also now able to collect rent from her tenants to support her family.
When asked how she was able to find the courage to persevere for so many years, Sauda replied, "I was fighting for what was rightfully mine. I was fighting for truth."