MSPARC - Mathare Special Planning Area Research Collective

Urgent recommendations for a people-centered COVID-19 government response in Mathare

The Mathare-Special Planning Area Research Collective — M-SPARC came together in 2019, to try and bring about people-centered planning and upgrading in Mathare. A Mathare-led initiative, this collective has also come together during the pandemic to provide material assistance to residents of this settlement. MSJC is part of these efforts, and within this collective has contributed to recommendations to the government, in order to make state responses more grounded and inclusive. These recommendations are below and can also be downloaded hereMSPARC Recommendations

By, The Mathare-Special Planning Area Research Collective — M-SPARC 

The current situation in Mathare

Out of 434 Mathare respondents of a Muungano wa Wanavijiji COVID-19 response survey conducted in early April 2020, 54% said they were taking personal measures to protect themselves; 43% were involved in organizations supporting others in their community, and a vast minority said that they had seen necessary actions being conducted by the National government, 17%, or the County Government, 14%. Related, with 69% of respondents taking it upon themselves to create awareness and 24% engaging in the distribution of essentials such as soap and sanitizer, we can make out the huge role that community groups and individuals are playing in protecting their communities against COVID-19. This is a role that surpasses that of the government – both National and County Governments. At the same time, since 38% of respondents said they still do not have adequate information about COVID- 19, and 56% said they lack adequate water while the vast majority, 89%, said they do not have basic needs (food, rent etc.,) to adhere to the protection measures, it is imperative that the governments, both National and County, play their part in supporting the Mathare community (and other poor areas) in their local COVID-19 response efforts. Based on these documented experiences of the past few weeks, we urge the government of Kenya to take up the following recommendations to make the COVID19 response in informal settlements effective, safe and dignified for all:

1.We urge the government to ensure a steady flow of water to all informal settlements and to all parts within these neighborhoods.

Many poor settlements still lack a sufficient water supply, despite the government directive that they should be provided with free water for the next few months, and this greatly exacerbates the overall risk situation here and hampers many initiatives by residents and local organizations to make water available for frequent hand washing in public spaces. The boreholes that have been dug by the government do not solve this problem sufficiently. Also, people with meters have been forced to pay 400 KES per month without the flow of water.

2. We urge the government to work through local community-led organizations in the informal settlements when distributing food, sanitation and protection items.

Much of the distribution of food, masks and hand sanitizers did not work through local organizations, and as a result has ended up endangering many recipients because of the chaos that ensued. These initiatives are also highly exclusive because they often go through influential people in the communities. Community-led organizations know their community and are held accountable by them for an even, fair and safe distribution of donations and other items. They know best how to organize a safe and respectful manner in which items can be distributed to those most in need. We also urge that food delivery and any other type of support, like the cash donations, from the government be adequate, inclusive and on an ongoing basis.

3. We urge the government to include youth as Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) and in other public health interventions in informal settlements.

Many of the current CHVs in informal settlements are older and some are HIV positive, which means that they are more at risk of becoming severely affected by the corona virus. The youthfulness and healthy immune systems of youth make them fit for this type of work under these circumstances. In addition, following the stringent corona measures, many of these youth in informal settlements have lost their access to work. Hence, including them as CHVs in the government’s public health outreach under its COVID19 response would also support these youth in earning a stipend during such dire economic times. However, the recent first attempt by the government to hire youth as part of fumigation efforts in Mathare has ended up in chaos due to lack of government planning and corruption, and  youth uncertain of the process were met with a disproportionally heavy-handed response by police (see point 4). This blatantly shows the need for a people-driven planning of Mathare through the declaration of Mathare as a Special Planning Area for this would enable community-led organizations and groups to work together with the government to organize both the employment of youth in such schemes and in the participatory planning and improvement of Mathare to benefit safety, health and economic outcomes, all at once. The knowledge on how Mathare can be organized and improved lies with the people living here who are already developing local mechanisms of development, work and care. By declaring Mathare a Special Planning Area, the government can build with and strengthen the local knowledges, achievements and arrangements through which government objectives concerning health, economy and safety could easily be achieved.

4. We urge the government to condemn the violent and corrupt mode of enforcing the current curfew and other corona measures in place by the police.

Our organizations have been flooded with incident reports on police who kill, maim and beat residents in the informal settlements, and even inside their own homes, when supposedly enforcing the curfew and other measures to stop COVID19 from spreading. The killing of Yassin Moyo, a 13 year old resident of Kiamaiko, Mathare, by police while he was standing on his own balcony is just one devastating example of many instances of the use of excessive force by police. Besides using illegal force, the police have also been reported to us, by many residents in informal settlements, as taking advantage of the corona measures to extort money from residents. On top of this, a shocking number of young people have disappeared in recent weeks. Some have been found beaten but alive in police stations after days of searching, while others are yet to be found.

5. We urge the government to include community-led organizations, such as the local Muungano Wanavijiji leaders, in the local task force committees.

At present, the local task force committees that operate under the national task force steering the government’s response to COVID19 draw membership from local Nyumba Kumi groups and village elders. While local community-led organizations have vast experience reaching the residents who are most in need and are in general the first responders to any type of crisis in these neighborhoods (fire, cholera outbreaks, violence etc.), they are not part of the local task force steering the local COVID19 response. Not including their immense experience and local knowledge could thus seriously jeopardize the effectiveness of the government’s COVID19 response in informal settlements. Moreover, the collective awareness, research and food and water distribution efforts they are engaged in during this time, and that precede local government efforts, make imperative their involvement in the local and national COVID-19 committees.

6. We urge the government to work together with residents and other community-led organizations to locate safe and dignified isolation centers for COVID19 patients in or nearby the informal settlements.

The plan to have a few large-scale isolations centers, for instance in Kasarani stadium, has sparked enormous fear among residents of informal settlements. Since the proposed centers are far from their homes, this will discourage many people from coming forward when having symptoms, and in this way completely obstructing the COVID19 response in these neighborhoods. There are many local options known by the local organizations that could help residents suffering from COVID19 to stay close to where they live while receiving adequate and dignified care.

Under the banner of the Mathare Spatial Planning Area Research Collective:

1) Ghetto Foundation

2) Muungano wa Wanavijiji

3) Kiamaiko Community Justice Centre

4) Mathare Social Justice Centre

5) Slum Dwellers International-Kenya

6) Naipolitans

7) Muungano AMT

8) Kounkuey Design Initiative




Please follow and like us:
EJE Campaign Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network Social Justice Centres Working Group

“War against the poor and youth”: Video of UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard Solidarity Visit to Mathare

In February 2020, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitration executions, came to Mathare to take part in a community-led conference that focused on the rampant extrajudicial killings of the poor in Nairobi. We greatly appreciated her solidarity visit, and we continue together to demand justice for our people.  In this video she talks about this visit, and the “war against the poor and youth” that Kenya and other states are waging. We thank Peace Brigades International for their work to bring Agnes Callamard to our community. See the video below.

Please follow and like us:
Social Justice Centres Social Justice Centres Working Group

Police Reforms Working Group (PRWG) Statement on the disappearances of our comrades: Michael Njau, Adan Mohammed Saibu & Samuel Mungai

As we continue to look for our comrades from Kiamaiko who were last seen on April 24, please read and share the statement below by the Police Reforms Working Group. This statement is available here: 2020 May 1 PRWG Kiamaiko3 disappearances

We continue to search for them across the County, and hope they will be back to their families soon.

Disappearances of Michael Njau, Adan Mohammed Saibu and Samuel Mungai 

Joint Statement by twenty Human Rights Organisations 


1 May 2020 

Twenty human rights organisations under the auspices of the Police Reforms Working Group have raised alarm following the disappearance of Michael Njau, Adan Mohammed Saibu and Samuel Mungai. 

Reported missing on 24th April 2020 to Thika Police Station, the three men have been mysteriously missing for six days. The three were last seen in Thika town while driving back to Nairobi. They were driving in a car hire Silver Ractis registration number KCX 843M. 

The car owner reported the matter at Githurai Kimbo Police Station on 26th April 2020 and Githurai Mwiki Police Station. The vehicle has since been moved to Thika Police Station for inspection where a missing person report was initially filed. 

It has been close to a week since their families have reported their disappearance to the police. There has been no official information on the progress of the investigation. The twenty human rights organisations remind the law enforcement agencies of a number of cases of disappearances of human rights defenders. Michael Njau is an active community leader and member of the Kiamaiko Social Justice Centre. 

Family, friends and human rights defenders are engaged in an active search for the three men. They have visited twenty-six police stations and twelve hospitals and morgues across Nairobi, Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos in the last five days. 

Every moment now counts. We acknowledge current efforts by the combined arms of the investigation, police and law enforcement agencies. We call on them to intensify their actions to ensure the safety and return of the three missing persons. We also call on the public to report any information to the local Police Station and 0716261113/0722926732. 

This statement is endorsed by members of the Police Reforms Working Group, an alliance of several organisations committed to professional and rule of law policing. They include the Social Justice Centres Working Group, International Justice Mission, Independent Medical Legal Unit, Katiba Institute, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Defenders Coalition, Haki Africa, Amnesty International Kenya, International Centre for Transitional Justice, The Kenyan Section of International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya), Usalama Reforms Forum, Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA-K) Legal Resources Foundation, Transparency International Kenya, Shield For Justice, Wangu Kanja Foundation, Peace Brigades International and Katiba Institute 




Please follow and like us:
Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network Papo Reto/Kenya & Brazil Solidarity Solidarity Women in Social Justice Centres

“Killings Get Back, We are Moving Forward” : The Launch of the Network of Mothers of Victims and Survivors of Police Violence

This article was written about the Mother of Victims and Survivors Network launch, and was originally published on RioOnWatch, as part of “ongoing reporting on social struggles around the world that dialogue with the local reality in Rio de Janeiro and offer important points of international comparison. ” We agree with RioOnWatch that “analyzing parallels and showing solidarity for peer communities allows us all to establish connections, share knowledge, build networks of support, and establish a sense of common experience and purpose.”

On February 15, nearly two years after beginning their work, the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network launched their initiative at the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya.

The network is composed of close to fifty members from across the city’s low-income settlements—from Kayole, Mathare, Dandora, Mukuru, Kibera and elsewhere—all of whom have come together to seek justice for the killing or brutal victimization of members of their family, usually young men, by the police.

Echoing the struggles of the mothers of political prisoners in Kenya in the early nineties and similar inspirational mobilizations of madres and mães in Argentina and Brazil, the network is primarily composed of women. These are the mothers and wives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

Since 2017, the members of the Network have been coming together to support each other through grief, to offer solidarity in the judicial system for the mothers who have been lucky enough to have their cases reach court, to document new victims, and to strategize collectively. Though throughout this time they have witnessed and continue to experience the imbalances and biases of the Kenyan legal system, the day’s launch was a celebration of the Network’s tedious, painful, and painstaking work: of what they have accomplished and what they will continue to do to ensure justice for their communities.

In 2017, the MSJC, a community-based organization in the urban settlement of Mathare, released a participatory action report on extrajudicial killings in Kenya between 2013-2016. The report, titled “Who is Next?: A Participatory Action Research Report Against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare,” chronicled the killing of at least 50 young men in Mathare and 803 nationally in the three-year period. While illustrative of the sinister force of the police in the country, most citizens recognize that this documentation is only the beginning. The number represents a minority of those who have been killed in the recent past and filed away as “thugs” or “suspected terrorists.”

Some of the families of the young men killed and documented in this report and other ongoing MSJC documentation are represented in the Network.

Mama Victor, the current coordinator of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, lost her two sons, Victor and Bernard, on the same day in 2017. They were killed, meters apart, by police officers who had invaded Mathare, ostensibly to quell protests provoked by the election results released a day earlier.

In Lucy Wambui’s case, another co-leader of the Network, her husband, Christopher Maina, was killed when she was eight months pregnant with their first child. He was dragged from a building site where he had been working and killed at 2pm on a public street. His killer, a notorious police officer named Rashid, executed one of the witnesses to Maina’s killing a year later. Having also been filmed killing two young men in Eastleigh two months after killing Maina, Rashid continues to work as a police officer. Unjustly vindicated in an irresponsibly biased BBC documentary, this breed of policing reflects that what the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard called, during her February 2020 visit to Mathare, typical of “serial killers in uniform.”

Another member of the network is Mama Stella, whose son was one of the eight young men killed by the police in April 2016 in Mukuru. Though the media reported that they were “suspected thugs,” two of them were only 16, and one was 17 years old. The group had plans to start a community garbage collection business.

One of the youngest members of the network is 19-year-old Mso from Mathare, who has had two partners killed by the police in the same year. She is now left to care for two young sons in the same settlement where her husbands were killed.

While their family members are killed at whim, these women are unable to seek justice from government organizations such as the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). According to its own “End-Term Board Report 2012 -2018,” the IPOA has only managed three convictions out of the 9878 cases it received during that period—just as in Brazil, the vast majority of these cases remain under endless investigation. And yet, against the injustice of these conditions, the Network has continued to grow.

These women know that the killing of their family members is only one extreme outcome in a continuum of structural violence that features, among other things: lack of access to water, poor schools, inadequate health care, and the militarization of their homes. “Children being killed like kukus [chicken],” said one mother.

They also know that the government’s informally formalized “shoot to kill” policy is reserved for spaces like theirs. Wealthy areas of the city see no such policing.

For this reason, these mothers came together on February 15 wearing red shirts to represent the[ir] “blood that had been shed.” On the back of these shirts were only three words: “justice for victims.”

Together they sang and danced and marched determinedly, expressing how the[ir] “fire had been lit” [moto imewaka], while dedicating time to plant trees in memory of those they had lost.

As these trees grow and are taken care of in a community that is governed by environmental apartheid, they will stand as symbols of residents’ struggle for justice. They will exist in opposition to a status quo, planted in a moment of change co-catalyzed when these mothers got up and said: “killings get back, we are moving forward.”

Please follow and like us:

Mathare COVID-19 Efforts & Solidarity

Since the government announced the first positive COVID-19 patient on March 13, there has been lots of community work going on in Mathare and other poor settlements in the country. Recognizing that they cannot depend on their government, grassroots activists have been mobilizing to get water tanks, water, sanitizers, soap, food, money and other essentials to desperate citizens. This situation is explained in a more in-depth manner through a Social justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) statement available here.

Many people in Mathare and other poor urban settlements have lost their jobs or are unable to work for daily wages because of the “mini-lockdown.” And because of this food, water and other solidarities become very important. This situation has been made worse by the violent enforcement of the curfew, and a number of Mathare residents have been beaten extensively, and a 13 year old boy was killed on March 31 while observing the curfew on his balcony. His whole family were present during that execution by bullet, and until now no police officer has been brought to book for this.

At MSJC we have been lucky to have received solidarity from various people and organizations: we have received a water tank, money, food support, water, sanitizers, masks and soap. We are also working together with other organizations such as Ghetto Foundation, Kiamaiko Community Justice Centre (KCJC), Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and Muungano wa Wanavijiji (under the banner of Mathare SPA) to have a more coordinated response as organizations advocating and struggling for Mathare.

As an organization, our members have also done a participatory survey across all wards of Mathare to understand the greatest priorities of residents, as well as to create awareness on COVID-19: initial survey results are available through this link: (MSJC initial community COVID-19 findings). We also currently have a water tank in front of our space where we provide free water and soap for residents for hand washing, and have been able to distribute some masks. Thank you to those who have contributed to help us buy water, food and other essential, and for any one else who would like to contribute, they are welcome to send via MPESA or World Remit to Wangui Kimari (the Participatory Action Research Coordinator at MSJC) on this phone number (+254728174329). We will acknowledge all donations on our website, and are very grateful for them as we seek to support Mathare community members who are really struggling at this time.

Other community based organizations are doing similar work, and to find out about the work of other justice centres across Kenya, please contact the Social Justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) at:

We keep praying and hoping that this situation will pass soon locally and across the globe, and that we will all be able to keep safe. Until then we keep on trying to make sure our communities are safe and healthy. We hope we can stand together to make this possible. Please see pictures below from ongoing community efforts during this time. Pamoja!



Please follow and like us:

Thank you Mutual Aid for the support!

Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) in partnership with Mutual Aid last week donated food stuffs and sanitizers to person’s living with disabilities in Mathare. These efforts are so we can have solidarity with our most vulnerable people as we all face the COVID-19 situation, and also to support this important campaign. We continue to share, demand rights and recruit more differently abled people from Mathare and other informal settlements so that together we can amplify their voices and demand justice and rights. We greatly appreciate this solidarity from Mutual Aid. See pictures from this day below:

Please follow and like us:
EJE Campaign Police Brutality Social Justice Centres

Thank you to all who donated to Yasin Moyo’s Family + Vigil today (April 2 @ 4pm)

Thank you all who responded to our call for counselors for and donations to Yasin Moyo’s family — the 13 year old who was shot and killed by the police during the COVID-19 motivated curfew on March 30. It has been so painful for the family, and we are grateful to you all from all walks of life who donated what they could. We managed to get counselors who will support the whole family, and we received 21, 492 in cash from people of all walks of life. Special thanks to Thomas Andrew (who donated 10,000 KES) and Matilda Stevens (who donated 4900 kes).

Yesterday, we were in solidarity with Kiamaiko Community Justice Centre (KCJC) who held a press conference together with Yasin’s Family. The two pictures below document, first, Yasin’s father, and then Mama Rahma (who is also of MSJC and was collecting the monies on our behalf) and Kimani from KCJC.


Today there will be a vigil for Yasin Moyo at 4 pm in Kiamaiko, and all are welcome to stand in solidarity with the family and remember Yasin. It will also be a moment to come together and demand for justice.

We hope you can make it, and sincerely grateful for those who have contributed whatever they could to his family, as well as the counselors who have volunteered to stand with and counsel the family at this time.

Justice for Yasin!

Please follow and like us:

Police Extortion Suffocating the Boda Boda Sector As Youth Unemployment Soars

By Dennis Orengo  & Lena Anyuolo

The wave of this two wheeled transport began in the 1980s in Busia and Malaba borders of Kenya and Uganda. This form of transport satisfied the need for quick transport across the border through no man’s lands, hence the trade flourished and more bicycles plied this route. More riders set up ‘bases,’ that is ferrying points along the route, and they had to call out to clients from a distance. To do that, they shouted “BODA! BODA!” which is a corruption of border to border. Today it has become a reliable means of transport and spawned an industry from which millions derive a livelihood.

Such is the success of the boda boda industry that a group of boda boda operators organized themselves and formed a cooperative society that has evolved into a multi-million shilling housing project in Mathare area number 10. To emphasize the seriousness of this form of transport, the word “boda boda” made its way to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017. Collins and Macmillan dictionaries define the term as a bicycle taxi or a bicycle rider in charge of a motorcycle.

According to the National and Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) there are 1, 631, 314 motorcycles in Kenya as of March, 2020. NTSA data shows that the economic contribution of boda boda’s is estimated at an average of slightly above 190 billion annually. Today, many Kenyans have preferred riders to send on errands. In remote and inaccessible areas it’s the major form of transport, while in cities like Nairobi, residents use it to beat traffic jam. Many Kenyans both in cities and rural areas prefer to use boda boda because they maneuver easily where taxis and buses cannot. Their arrival has also saved lives for instance when Daniel Mburu, a twenty-four year old boda boda rider, saved a young girl who was drowning in Korogocho river and rushed her to Mama Lucy hospital where her life was saved. Unfortunately for Mburu, he was shot dead by the police within the same hospital premises after saving the young girl’s life. Boda bodas have created jobs and transformed the lives of young jobless Kenyans. But, there is a darker side to boda boda implosion as our research found out.

The boda boda riders in Nairobi, especially in Mathare Sub County and the larger Nairobi Eastlands, have accused the police of harassment and using crude methods to arrest them. The police officers who are supposed to deal with security issues are putting up road blocks and laying ambush at Dandora and Kariobangi roundabout along Outering road. The same brutality and extortion happens along Thika road next to Mathari mental hospital and within the Mathare villages. During these times, the officers demand bribes between Kenya shillings 5000 to 30, 000. During certain times the boda boda riders have been forced to flee just as the customer was about to pay when the (rider) notices policemen walking towards them to lay an ambush. In some instances during the ambush, both the rider and the customer gets thorough beatings from the police despite the fact that it’s not illegal to operate a boda boda business. Whenever any rider is arrested and demands to be arraigned in court instead of paying bribes, the police threaten to file charges on them for offences they didn’t commit such as drug trafficking.

The government must therefore compel the police to stop the harassment because the boda boda sector offers employment to a large constituency of youths in the country and it’s a major contributor to the country’s economy. Youths who invest in this sector do not want to engage in unlawful acts such as robbery and that’s why they take up loans from financial institutions to purchase the motorcycles. The cardinal question the young boda boda riders pose to the government is: “how will they manage to repay their loans if the little they get is taken away by the rogue police?” The government must protect the youths and provide a conducive business environment.

The youths also appeal to the Nairobi County ward representatives to develop and come up with a Nairobi County boda boda policy. This will help owners and operators whose current reputation has sometimes been linked to insecurity. This policy must promote the security of the motorcycle industry amongst all stakeholders and ensure all adhere to traffic laws.

The boda boda operators and owners also thanked Mathare Social Justice Centre through Lenah Anyuolo and Dennis Orengo who visited them in their bases, and taught them about the rights of arrested persons (Article 49 ) and freedom and security of persons (Article 29) in the Kenyan constitution. They acknowledged the knowledge of the law in the constitution empowers them in fighting against police extortion and brutality.


Please follow and like us:
Social Justice Centres Working Group

The Social Justice Centres Press Statement on the Corona Virus Situation in Kenya

Kenyans, the majority who cannot afford to work or home or don’t have enough water or any hand sanitizers, are struggling with the restrictions brought about by the Corona virus situation. See a statement from the Social Justice Centers Working Group below.

18 March 2020


The Social Justice Centers Working Group wants to join Kenyans in commending the Kenyan Government in the steps they have taken to try and contain the spread of Covid 19 although not as timely as Kenyans would have wished for. When Kenyans pushed for the cancellation of flights and better preparation in the event the pandemic hit the country, the government in its style and fashion dismissed the concerns of its citizens. We now find ourselves in a precarious position where restriction of movement and observation of the health guidelines could mean financial disability and starvation for the larger majority with no clear good will from the government on how to tackle this. 

While we appreciate the efforts that are now in place, the Social Justice Centers Working Group is deeply concerned by the practicability of the health measures put in place. The informal settlements that are densely populated are almost between a rock and a hard place because the guidelines put out are not anything they can abide to even if their lives depended on it. 

In his address to the Nation, the president advised citizens to work from home except those offering essential services. While essential services might mean different things depending on which side of the divide you come from (the haves and the have not’s). A simple interpretation on the ground in the informal settlements means no means of survival. Mama mboga is essential service, public toilets are essential services, water vending are essential services, hawking is an essential service because such are the wheels that drive our economies in the informal settlements and working from home is not an option. A day in the house for most people living in the informal settlements means a day without a meal on the table. Such blatant disconnection from the common mwananchi and their reality shows a failed government. We hereby demand that the government offer alternatives to the millions of Kenyans who are casual laborers and depend on daily earnings for survival. 

The saving grace in this pandemic has been ensuring we observe hygiene. The ministry of health has been in the front line championing for the use of sanitizers and hand washing yet has not given a sustainable solution to the more than 80% of people living in the informal settlements with no access to water and cannot afford the hand sanitizers. The assumption that all Kenyans can access water and soap is not only ignorant but careless and we demand that the government now shows more seriousness in combating this pandemic by supplying all Kenyans who cannot afford these essentials. 

In this regard we demand that the government: 

1. Restore water supply to all the estates and slums and crack down on all water cartels extorting citizens. 

2. Speedily dispatch water tankers to areas that have no running water and depend on water points that are congested and expensive. 

3. Provide free or subsidized hand sanitizers clearly marked by the MOH. 

4. Equip government health centers with testing kits, trained personnel and ambulances to be able to handle emergency cases. 

5. The government must control the prices of basic commodities to ensure most Kenyans can afford, give relief food to those who cannot afford. 

Lastly, the public is in panic and very little education is being given to allay fears and to assure Kenyans of their preparedness. The constitution of Kenya gives Kenyans the right to information and yet the government has largely depended on digital platforms to spread the message disregarding the reality that not everyone is tech savvy or on digital platforms. Mass public health education must be rolled out if we are to fight this pandemic successfully. 

In the fight for social justice and equity, access to affordable and good healthcare has been one of the core campaigns of the Social justice working group. Through participatory action research and robust lobbying, we have severally pushed for better health care in public hospitals and it is very unfortunate that Kenyans now suffer because of an irresponsible and corrupt government that has brought the health care sector to its knees. We call upon the government to live out the mandate given to it by Wanjiku to serve them diligently, without discrimination or alienation. People from the informal settlements and Kenya at large deserve a dignified life. It is their right. 

The Social Justice Centers Working Group will on its part continue to Organize, Educate, and Liberate until we are a Social Justice Nation.

A Luta Continua. 






Please follow and like us:
Social Justice Centres Working Group

Reflections on Working with the Community: My Experience from 15 Years of Social Justice Work in Kenya

In early February, our coordinator, Gacheke Gachihi, was invited to the East African Public Interest Advocate Training in Arusha to reflect on his over 15 years experience in community organizing, and how he has contributed to public interest in this work. Below is the speech he prepared for this training, and that can help us as community organizers reflect on social justice movement organizing and how it can be complemented by public interest litigation.

Reflections on Working with the Community: Experience from 15 Years of Social Justice Work in Kenya

East Africa Public Interest Advocate Training Program – Arusha, February 2 2020

By Gacheke Gachihi: Coordinator Mathare Social Justice Centre and Member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group.

Greetings. I would like to thank the East Africa Public Interest Litigation Program for inviting me to speak and share my experience as a community organizer and social justice activist from Kenya. It is a great honor for me to speak to lawyers and advocates in the region, and it is a great idea to include community organizing reflections in this public interest litigation training.

In East Africa, the democratic and political space for civic engagement and public interest work is eroding in a dramatic way. The governments of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda have extended presidential terms limits and curtailed rights to organize for social justice and for opposition.

Kenya is struggling with a failed democratic transition, even after passing a new constitution in 2010. Tanzania is experiencing rising cases of police brutality against vocal human rights defenders and political activists, and the limiting of rights to organize and assemble peacefully, all which erode civic engagement and the struggle for social justice. The complex situation of an economic crisis and a shrinking democratic space demands robust community engagement: active public interest litigation to defend human rights and social justice that is linked to grassroots political and social justice movements.

In my 15 years experience in community organizing, I have been using public interest litigation as a tool to expand democracy, and fight for human rights and social justice.  In 2000 – 2001, I worked as an intern at the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and was monitoring and documenting human violations cases to contribute to a database of torture cases, as part of the Litigation Fund Against Torture Fund (LIFAT). This was a project that was created by People Against Torture (PAT) and Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) so as to bring about public interest cases against torture. Later, I worked with the Independent Medico-Legal Unit as a field officer in the legal department from 2005-2010. We bailed out victims of torture and human rights defenders.


In 2015, I co-founded, with other social justice activists based in Mathare, Mathare Social justice Centre. This is a grassroots community based organization, which was created to  address the issues of social injustice and human rights violations, and has since inspired vibrant social justice centres in Kenya today.

In collective struggles, we have worked with Katiba Institute and other civil society organizations to file many public interest cases in the judiciary, as part of fighting for social justice and demanding the implementation of the constitution, especially the enforcement of the Bill of Rights — Chapter 4 of the constitution. One example is Petition 323 of 2014, that quashed the malicious prosecution against myself and three other activists who are part of the leadership of social justice centres. Another case was the petition to stop the election in 2017.

The path of public interest litigation has allowed for the growth and formation of grassroots social justice centres.

Social Justice Movement

The Social Justice Centres Working Group (SJCWG) is the collective leadership of 24 social justice centres and social justice activists across the country, and that was formed in 2017. It was launched during the Saba Saba March for our Lives in 2018, at the historic Kamukunji Grounds. It is composed of those who have come together to pursue social justice through  forming registered community based organizations that are referred to as social justice centres. These centres have created more civic spaces to convene the grassroots social justice movement, and in this spaces the focus is community organizing, the documentation of human rights violations, conducting a number of important campaigns, writing petitions and the referral of cases for redress to relevant authorities.


The Social Justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) in Kenya is led by a steering committee of elected officials with a mandate to coordinate and connect the centres that are unified under the banner of the the Social Justice Centre Working Group. The working group is critical as it helps to consolidate and amplify the efforts of the various centres, and solidify the impact by working together in defense of social justice and human rights.

The SJCWG comprises of two representatives from each social justice centre. The SJCWG envisions a democratic state in Kenya founded on social justice and human rights for all. Its mission is to organize, educate and liberate, particularly the residents of the informal settlements. It also works to build their agency, empower them and amplify their voices in response to the social injustices and human rights violations they face on a daily basis.

History of the Social Justice Centre Working Group

Mathare Social Justice Centre led to the emergence of several social justice centres in Dandora, Githurai, Kayole, Mukuru, Ruaraka, Kiambiu, Kariobangi, Makadara, and several others in informal settlements in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. The Social Justice Centre Working Group opposes the dehumanization and oppression of the urban poor in Nairobi. And in 2017, over 500 residents from these neighborhoods, together with some members of civil society, marched to Kamukunji grounds. The Saba Saba March for Our Lives borrows its name from the Saba Saba Day public rally held on July 7 1990, at the Kamukunji Grounds, to protest former president Moi’s undemocratic rule, and press for constitutional reform by agitating for the repealing of section 2A of the constitution that would allow for the reintroduction of the multiparty system.

The social justice movement has helped to foster unity in the community, and this is based on the constitution of Kenya and a belief in human rights.

Objectives of the centres include: 

  • Build a unified social justice movement in Kenya to rescue the failed democratic transition, and create alternative political leadership for our social and economic liberation
  • To activate community agency on matters of human rights and social justice
  • To build solidarity among social justice centres
  • Organize joint campaigns, petitions and solidarity marches on cross cutting grassroots and national issues
  • Empower communities to advocate for their own justice and human rights
  • To expand the democratic civic space
  • To consolidate the efforts and gains made by the work of grassroots human rights defenders

How to form a social justice centre

The foundation of social justice movement building is first and foremost friendship. The camaraderie is vital as it guards against self-interest and opportunism among the members. The second is organizing protests against human rights violations, and documentation of the same in your area. The third is to establish a civic space for community organizing, participatory action research and community dialogues through the formation of social justice centres, and finally to anchor all the efforts in participatory action research.

  • Make friends with your community members through civic actions
  • Invite friends to informal discussions and debates about local and national issues at your home or neutral place in your community hall
  • Agree on an action plan on local issues that need action or intervention e.g. community security forums, the environment, CDF, local political leadership, drug abuse, participate in community based groups, youth and women groups, progressive political parties and social forums
  • Recruit members to the social justice movement in your area through active participation in activities that advance the agenda of social change, link the local struggle to the national and international struggles
  • Ensure constant civic engagement is maintained and make the community social justice centre a home for convening and organizing social movements in your area.
  • Register the community based organization with the sub -county social development office in your area.

The vision of the Social Justice Centres Working Group

The vision of the Social Justice Centres Working Group is to continue with the struggle for democracy and social justice: to build a socially just and democratic state with a mission to organize, educate and liberate the masses

Structure of the SJCWG



  1. Saba Saba March for Our Lives in 2018 and 2019.
  2. Social Justice Centres National Congress in 2019
  3. Rapid growth of social justice centres across the country
  4. Through consistent and vigorous campaigns against extrajudicial killings, we have been able to give the crisis the weight and attention it deserves, stirring the nation to solution-oriented conversation around this injustice
  5. We have been able to give the victims of violations the courage, support, voice and platform to seek redress
  6. We have successfully engaged duty bearers and formed progressive working relations
  7. Through the documentation of human rights violations and linking the community to agencies and organizations that help them pursue justice, more people have been encouraged to come out and seek justice for violations against them, restoring hope for the rule of law
  8. We have managed to turn the community into human rights defenders and advocates for social justice
  9. Through mentorship and engaging the youth in activities and dialogues against crime, we have been able to change reformed youths to human rights defenders
  10. We have been able to tell stories and advocate for change through our campaign: arts for social justice.


Moblie: +254720318049




Please follow and like us: