Here are pictures from recent MSJC events and mobilizations in Mathare. Enjoy and we look forward to seeing you at our next event for justice!
Here are pictures from recent MSJC events and mobilizations in Mathare. Enjoy and we look forward to seeing you at our next event for justice!
Our friend and comrade Kimani Waweru from the Mau Mau Research Centre (MMRC) breaks down social justice for us here. He gave this presentation as part of the recent March training for human rights monitors from Mathare that we had at MSJC. You can read more of this important analysis on his blog
The notion of social justice is relatively new. The concept first surfaced in Western thought and political language in the wake of the industrial revolution and the parallel development of the socialist doctrine. It emerged as an expression of protest against what was perceived as the capitalist exploitation of labour and as a focal point for the development of measures to improve the human condition. It was born as a revolutionary slogan embodying the ideals of progress and fraternity. Following the revolutions that shook Europe in the mid-1800s, social justice became a rallying cry for progressive thinkers and political activists. The capitalist system whose engine is expropriation of profits from exploited workers and oppressed women brought about inequality. The rise in inequality in the distribution of income among people has resulted in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This causes majority of people to be poor and this constitutes an injustice. The urge to get more profits also leads the capitalist government to cut down social spending thus contributing to discrimination, poor health, vulnerability, insecurity, and a lack of education among the majority poor.
The concept of social justice has also been adopted by religious groups for example catholic church in Latin America through the Peruvian priest, Gestavo Gutierrez came up with liberation theology which conveys the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It is an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Christianity through the eyes of the poor. The concept has also been adopted by other denominations
Failure by the Kenya Government to provide social services goes against the constitution as well as the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. The Constitution of Kenya article 43 has stipulated that every person has the right to education, health care, social security etc. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles 22 and 26 also insists on the said rights, for example article 22 dwells on the right to social security; it states that all have the right to affordable housing, medicine, education, and child care, enough money to live on and medical help if he/she is sick or old. Article 26 states that education is a right and primary school should be free.
Government failure to offer social justice to the poor has led to youth especially those from poor neighbourhoods to engage in all manner of tactics to put food in their table. Few, due to frustration and desperation ,end up indulging in anti-social activities such as stealing and prostitution. The government on its side uses its dehumanised police to execute the said youth without adhering to the constitution of the country. The police actions has robbed many youths of their basic rights and therefore allowing them to be victims of injustice. The Government which is the main culprit, deceives people that it is addressing social justice by coming up with arbitrary policies which at the end fail to produce the desired results. For example In January 2013 the Kenyan Parliament enacted the Social Assistance Act. Under this law financial and social assistance was to be provided to poor orphans, vulnerable children, poor elderly persons, youth who are unemployed, disabled persons, widows and widowers, and people who have been disabled by acute chronic illness.
What is social justice?
It is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.
Human Rights Approach to Social Justice
Human rights are basic rights which every human being is entitled to regardless of race, gender, nationality or ethnic origin they are intrinsic i.e. natural. They are not given by government, institution, spouse or parent. The role of government as far as human rights are concerned is to facilitate them. The international community has agreed to several key characteristics of human rights. These are:
The human rights approach to social justice can be termed as turning to human rights to secure social, political, and economic objectives; to strengthen the capacity to use human rights to combat entrenched poverty, discrimination, and injustice.
Human Rights Defenders and Social Justice
A human rights defender (HRDs) can be said to be a person who promotes and protects the human rights of others and his own. In most cases HRDs apply social-justice principles by using knowledge of existing legal principles to protect the poor, oppressed, discriminated and powerless against the violators of social justice. The HRDs ensure that the poor and the disadvantaged are treated respectfully by duty-bearer stakeholders (state and its actors). They also make sure that government bears the greatest responsibility or duty of facilitating access to social justice for all people irrespective of their class.
The Role of Human Rights Defenders in Protecting Social Justice
It is believed that peace is not possible where there are gross inequalities. People denied social justice will never cease to demand rights while those empowered by law to provide them will not yield until they are forced. This is because they benefit from status quo. The duty bearers are always powerful and they normally do all manner of things to make sure that the status quo remain. They normally use the state machineries such as police to execute their mission. On the other hand the HRDs who are part of the larger communities whose rights are denied strive to bring about the social justice and this puts them at risk. The duty bearers, as Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy argues, have contributed in eroding the term social justice. Human rights violations are increasingly portrayed as unfortunate fallouts from an otherwise acceptable political and economic system.
 The International Forum for Social Development – Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations United Nations Report 2006
 “Social justice a mirage for most Kenyans” by Kethi Kilonzo
Tuesday, the 17th of January found a group of us, from Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) making our way to Mlango Kubwa for a community dialogue session on the issue of political precarity occasioned by the violence of the state against its citizens, and continually using the police as a tool for arbitrary arrests, malicious prosecutions, enforced disappearances and death of said suspects of crime. Being a fortnight after Christmas, there would be expected some mirth in the community, with children playing or even, at least, conversations about the great year ahead. But all is sullen, most people restrict their movements to within their close neighbourhood, actually, we were invited to this particular area by the youth who were disturbed that they were being killed like dogs! They confided that a policeman in Mlango killed 6 people and the very next day 5 people. There was nothing to celebrate about the new year. No rest. No peace. This story of police brutality and then shattering anguish of the bereaved goes much the same way as it does in many parts of the country, Mathare forms part of the many ghettos within Kenya that are clouded with the plague of normalized extrajudicial executions. Alarmingly, these are perpetrated by a body established within the constitution and mandated to ensure security of the citizens. It is therefore ironical that here in Mathare, the custodians of law and order have become the harbinger and perpetrators of anarchy and broad-daylight executions.
It was noted in the dialogue that:
The policeman patrolling the area that may or may not be in their jurisdiction and that(he)
The Kenyan state has made extrajudicial killings and unlawful arrests excruciatingly mundane for the second class citizens, the residents who live to the east of the city. Dying in Nairobi is a particularly class thing.
It is about 10 am and people are quickly filling in. The few narrow benches against the walls are not sufficient to contain the numbers of mainly young people making their way into the building. There are as many men as there are women. The faces of the departed were present too. Painted on the t-shirts of friends and family whose existence continues to be etched on the scenes of the crimes.
The discussion begins with a short introduction of the people from MSJC. After this, Steve, speaks in detail on Article 49 of the constitution on the rights of arrested persons. Steve who is now a law student, grew up in Mlango Kubwa. As a member of the community, and as someone who has been unlawfully arrested, he speaks with a deep understanding of what it means to encounter the cruel hands of the law. The very idea, that one could demand for official details and reason for arrest from an armed and often times intoxicated policeman with a record for shooting at sheer will seemed incredulous to most. That one should refuse to pay a bribe to a policeman and face the risk (or have their friend or family) of languishing in jail was almost laughable if it was not so heart wrenching. It seemed that everyone so desperately wanted to believe Steve. To imagine that we too had rights, we too were citizens of this country; as human as everyone else.
Gacheke speaks: And people respond in intervals. Writing down a pledge on the funeral fundraiser book, printing t-shirts for burials and memorials sometimes for someone as young as 13 years old shot dead by the police is too tragic a routine to get used to. Fear is sown easily here. And so your neighbour may report you, sometimes, to save themselves. Or your aunt, who together with your mother and friends paid the bribe to have you released from jail asks back for her contribution. You were arrested for touting! Try and disprove that. What is a young jobless person to do? Of course, there are options. But very few options.
Someone asked the question – ‘and how many people have been killed’? Jonte answered – well over 500 young men have in the recent past been gunned down by the police. Where is justice to be found? The police will at best, ask for a bribe. Mama Rahma, who was just named the best human rights defender of the year, said, that when she goes to the police station to complains about muslim women being raped, the response of the police is ‘but you are used to being raped. It has happened to you since you were 12’. When we try to access the internal commission of police, we are stopped at the gates by the guards. Why? Because our clothes are as faded as our skin and we are immediately assumed to be thieves. The politicians and the chiefs are never to be found in these times. They appear cyclically every 5 years. People are not people. They are only voters. Now that the election registration season is here, they have once again appeared from whichever mansions they had sprinted into, leaving their promises to us cracking out in the sun. This time though, things have to be different. Maybe we should take the money they offer us and still vote them out. But whom should we vote in? Are they all we have? What has democracy done to the wretched of the Earth? What can the oppressed do to own their dignity? What is human dignity these days?
As if to illustrate the point of the conversation, a commotion suddenly broke out outside. A man sprinted past, a police man followed suit, with a thick crowd of young men growing bigger behind him. The meeting of course stopped. Most people poured out, some, immediately joining the crowd. A few strides later, the man was in the hands of the men. His name is Bizna. Some stones and sticks had found their way to his body. He still had some pieces of his shirt on him. As it turned out, there was a rivalry between the older men and younger men in Mlango over the control of business ‘tenders’ like garbage collection. The older men tried to take over, sometimes reporting the younger men to the police. And then what always happens happens. Gunshots. A dead body. And a police narrative to justify a reckless shooting of an unarmed youth. Luckily for Bizna, the younger men decided to take him to the police station. Meanwhile, Mama Uji, beautiful, fierce, spots a young man in the crowd who had earlier on stolen some of her clothes. Together with a friend they accost him, physically. ‘you will bring my clothes’! His terrified body is now crushed against the wall of our meeting hall. He begs for forgiveness. They lean into him, squeeze a little more air out of him, and then let him go. He stumbles towards the crowd proceeding to the police station. People flow back into the meeting.
A number of MSF people had filed in earlier, to speak on emergency medical services that are available in the general Eastlands area. They come at a point when we are well into the second month of the national doctors strike with no sign of respite. The national fever is voter registration. The government agenda is politicization of ethnicity. We are reminded that we are not patients. We can never be too sick to register as voters. To our ‘leaders’, we are only voters. They speak about the availability of emergency services. They hand out business cards with emergency numbers and appeal for patience. Because the public hospitals are barely functioning, their services are now on very high demand. Two of the MSF staff present are from Mathare and they speak not just about the services that MSF makes available, but also share their thoughts on the troubles that afflict this community. Should we seek to change our social relations and uproot exploitation from below, or should we agitate for political change from above? As these thoughts percolate, two staff members from the Internal Affairs Unit arrive. They had been invited to speak with community members on how to report police brutality, unlawful arrests and false charges. They went through Article 49 like Steve had just done. The questions. ‘How can we get into Jogoo house where your offices are, with the guards keeping us out’? ‘How can the duty roaster of the police in charge at the stations be made available so that we know who is charge on a particular day?’ and ‘What will be done about the known assailants – like Rashid for instance, an Administrative Police who has murdered so many young men, and whose gunshots have become the morning alarm clock’? What about the OCS Madam Lang’at at Huruma police station who undermines and dismisses our basic humanity at every turn?’ ‘Do you know that many policemen are intoxicated when they patrol this area?’ The response. ‘Unacceptable, here are our details, call us when you get to our offices – Steve, we will leave you with the details, we shall deal with these known cases. Follow up on the 17th of February’. It’s the old song, the same promises, but this time they do not promise any hope, their lies, their incompetence, their consistent failure to protect human dignity forms a rhythm, a sad dirge, a premonition that echoes into every alley way of Mathare, a chorus that reminds us that we are on our own. Without jobs, without opportunities with the little education we have, and in a community that is not adequately served with schools, running water, hospitals and electricity, we are left to hustle for our own security. Democracy and Devolution has failed within the boundaries of our community. We are a people cast out -and the police have their muzzles gaping at us to keep us ‘disciplined’ ! We are daily wringed of our humanity!
But what can we do? Gacheke speaks about courage, like Maya Angelou did when she said ‘courage is the most important of all the virtues. You cant practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage’. We need to organize. Not with money. Not with the false sense of security and erratic donor funding and demands. Not with the political elite. But with our bodies, with our sense of courage, with our shared pains and hopes. Something is already happening. A group, The Pirates has emerged – an initiative of the Mlango Kubwa community against police violence. There were more suggestions. ‘Let’s have a wall of remembrance here. All the names and pictures of our community members murdered by the police. Let us create a project of self-reliance. Maybe we can even have a farm that generates income for us. Let’s take charge of our children’s education. Impart values of love and courage, however painful. They cannot separate us. They would have to kill us and bury us in one hole’. But even from our graves, we would rise. Our spirit is that of the MAUMAU, we cannot die, we cannot be wiped out. If they try, memory will remember us. Courage will stand for us. We shall keep struggling against oppression till every drop of blood collects into a wave, strong enough to triumph against the walls of injustice. We do not cry for riches, to live in penthouses or to assassinate our enemies. Not at all. We cry for Social Justice. For the basics of life!
Report by Noosim Maimasiah and Kenyan Mwangi.
Here are some pictures from this dialogue:
The Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) condemns in the strongest possible terms, the Extra Judicial Executions of two UNARMED young men in Eastleigh on Friday 31 March 2017.
This brazen execution by known police officers is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Rather, it is the more publicized recording of a common occurrence in many Nairobi Eastlands areas, where the rule of law does not apply. These executions happen primarily in the poorer areas of Nairobi, because, as it is well known, all alleged suspects of the national theft in government have not been accorded the same treatment.
Is the rule of law not applicable to the poorer populations and the underclass of this country? And if so, is Kenya a democratic state? The rating of Kenya as having the highest rate of reported extrajudicial executions (Amnesty International, 122 out of 147) in Africa reveals a horrifying trend of a State degenerating into its crudest form and abandoning the democratic values enshrined in the constitution
Article 48 – 51 of our constitution guarantees every person the right to due process, while the Police Act is clear on the circumstances that justify the use of a firearm by the police. The murder by a policeman of unarmed subdued citizens can only be justified in a state of war. The reality of living in a democratic state should apply to all Kenyan citizens, irrespective of their class.
We therefore demand that:
We are aware that the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstances are layered and intricate. They entail a long colonial history of racial and then class dehumanization compounded by every successive government, and, attendant to it, the degenerate circumstances in which an underclass is produced, including the police and the alleged criminals. Creating and then criminalizing poverty only serves to produce criminality and violence. If this continues we can only ask: who is next?
As part of our collaboration with the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement (KPSM), MSJC kicked off our Israeli Apartheid Week events today, Monday March 13th, with a screening of OCCUPATION 101. Please click on this KPSM link for more details on the collaborating organizations and the program for the next two weeks. The picture above shows our children in Mathare showing solidarity to the children of Palestine. Free Free Palestine!
Together with KenyaNaPalestine, MSJC will be hosting some of the events for Israeli Apartheid Week in Kenya. We support all struggles for justice and self determination, and are together with our Palestinian sisters and brothers in the fight against apartheid.
See the poster and schedule of events below.
Rahma Wako, is a fierce human rights defender passionately involved in the rights of women and children. She started human rights work in 1986 and has never looked back. For Rahma, she was not aware that she was doing human rights work when she started; according to her she was just doing what she thought was the right thing to do. It started when she was a young girl, the prettiest among her other siblings. Her parents had arranged for her to get married at an early age. Rahma fought this decision with all her might, she wanted to go to school. It was not an easy fight. She eventually ran away from home and attended primary school at a Christian school. She was the only Muslim. Rahma was very determined and focused, and amidst many challenges she sat her national exams and was called to Pangani Girls high school. Sadly, this is where the education journey ended for her. She had no money to pay school fees.
She started engaging in advocating for girl child education within the Muslim community in Kiamako. It was not an easy fight. People had not fully grasped the concept of girl child education. She also started fighting female genital circumcision which was a common practice in her community. This was the hardest for her because she was fighting a people’s culture, and she did this by herself. She went from door to door speaking to men and women against this practice telling them about the dangers they pose to their children. She later joined Bunge la Wamama Mashinani, a group of local women activist that met once a week over chai (tea) to discuss rampant human rights issues in the community.
Today, Rahma Wako boasts of several achievements in the human rights field. First, she is happy that the girl child is given equal importance as the boy child and that they have equal opportunities.
Also, her fight against forced female circumcision has paid off. She remembers during her fight, she encountered a doctor who used to conduct it in her community and despite talking to her severally, the said doctor would not heed to her pleas. Rahma fought for what she believed in and the doctor ended up in Lanagata women’s prison. This practice not entirely over, but she is determined to see that no other girl goes through this experience.
In December 2015, Rahma was nominated for Mathare Heroes Award as the human rights activist of the year. This was a tough competition. She was nominated against other strong human rights defenders in the community. Luckily, she emerged the winner! She had the most votes. This was the first time she saw her efforts being recognized by the public. She was ecstatic! And she deserved it.
In 2016 she joined the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), where she continued to fight for child and women rights. She is part of the reproductive justice campaign which handles issues like rape, gender based violence, female genital circumcision and civic education on child rights and family planning. At one point she was facing a difficult time with the leaders in her community because of a rape case that resulted in two young boys from her community going to jail. They were not especially happy that it was a woman responsible for their arrest. According to them, a woman should not be involved with issues of human rights. They called her and asked her to withdraw the case, or else they would disown her. Of course she could not withdraw they case, so she called other human rights defenders from MSJC and Bunge la Mwananchi to speak to her community leaders and explain her position as an activist. That is her passion to fight for the rights of others. The human rights defenders showed up in full support of Rahma; they talked to the wazee of her community and things calmed down.
It was also in 2016 that Rahma Wako was nominated for Nairobi County Human Rights Activist of the year. She recalls that this was not easy as well. It was a very stiff competition. Other human rights defender had also been nominated. The winner had to get the majority vote, and once again Rahma Wako did it! She won! She was the Nairobi County Human rights activist of the year! This brought tears to her eyes. Tear of joy, and disbelief, and triumph. She was both humbled and super happy! Along with the award, she received a token to appreciate her.
On 24th December 2016, she held an office party to celebrate her win at our centre. All expenses were on her. Foods and drinks were in plenty. She also brought a rose flower for all who were present. It was her day. After enjoying the food she has prepared for her, everyone present gave her congratulatory messages and hugs and some of us told us how much of an inspiration she is, and we obviously love her and are very proud of her. This was very emotional for her, she was in tears most of the time. She then narrated to us her life story and her journey as a human rights defender. We have deep seated respect for Mama Rahma, which is the name we gave her, she is like a mother to us.
She also hosted the leaders from her community who wanted her to quit activism and they all celebrated her win. It was also an emotional session for Ma Rahma as she talked to the wazees. Some of them were fighting tears, they felt they were wrong and had not been fair to her. They now give her full support and are very proud of her.
After the award, Ma Rahma did not stop there. If anything it gave her moral to keep at it! She has started justice clubs in five primary schools in Kia Maiko area. That is: Valley Bridge, Ndururuno, Daima, Salama and Huruma primary schools. Using these clubs she talks to the pupils about their rights and teaches them how to be responsible citizens. On 2nd February 2017 ,partnering with Baraka medical hospital and MSJC reproductive health rights campaign , there will be an outreach on women rights and in attendance, the pupils, female teachers and parents are expected to attend.
Rahma Wako is a hero, I am glad to have met and lucky enough to have worked with.
Report by Juliet Wanjira, Coordinator Reproductive Health Rights Campaign
MSJC office opening event was held on 7th January 2016 at MSJC office near Olympic petrol station in Mathare. The event was attended by MSJC members and partner organisations like Peace Brigade International, International Justice Mission, Bunge la Mwananchi , Bunge la Wamama, Ghetto Foundation and friends of Mathare Social Justice Centre. The event was graced by Professor Yash Pal Ghai and his wife Jill Ghai, who have are great supporters of MSJC.
The event started at 2:00pm. After registration of attendees, we sang the the First stanza of the National Anthem. After this we had welcoming remarks from Juliet wanjira, who was also moderating the event. Then the administrative coordinator Steve Kinuthia gave heartwarming remarks on the history of MSJC, the purpose of formation and the continuing growth of the centre which has been a dream come true. He gave the plans and activities of MSJC in 2017 and the role it intends to play bearing in mind that its an election year. Steve expressed his gratitude to MSJC partners and to Prof Yash and Jill for solidarity. After Steve we had Gacheke Gachihi, coordinator of MSJC who started off his remarks with wimbo wa mapambano, and like Steve he also expressed his gratitude to MSJC partners and particularly Prof Yash Pal Ghai, whom he jokingly referred to as our grandfather at MSJC.
He narrated how at one time Prof once said money and big cars will not bring any social revolution to ordinary Kenyans, in a time when all that mattered to most of his colleagues was just that. Gacheke refers to that as an incident he will never forget.
After Gacheke we had remarks from Peace Brigade International, who have been true partners and friends to the MSJC family. They sent Sabine to speak as their representative. Sabine narrated how happy they are to see MSJC at a point where they have their own office. she remembered how two years ago we were meeting in a hotel every Saturday afternoon, at the time we would contribute money for lunch if we had it. Sabine was glad to have witnessed the growth of MSJC.
PBI surprised us all when they gave Steve an award, The Invisible Mandelas award, on behalf on MSJC. It was a happy moment! We were all pleasantly surprised.
We also had remarks remarks from representatives of partner organisations that had attended the event. Charles gave his remarks on behalf of IJM, said they are happy to be our partner and are proud of our growth. Then we had Samuel known as MC, director of Ghetto Foundation. He was particularly happy on this day as he remembered they used to host MSJC before we got our own office; it was a beautiful thing to look back to. We are forever grateful and in solidarity with Ghetto Foundation.
We then had Rachael Mwikali who spoke on behalf of coalition for grassroots human rights defenders (CGHRD). She stressed on the importance of women empowerment and read out loud a quote on the wall of MSJC office: “There is no social revolution without the liberation of women.” Then we had Winfred Olal who spoke on behalf of Bunge la Wananchi. He led us into singing freedom songs, and celebrated the MSJC office as the office of grass root human rights defenders.
We then invited Prof Yash and Jill to give remarks on being part of MSJC and on the office opening event
After that we went outside the MSJC office for a photo session, we sang freedom songs as we prepared for Prof Yash to cut the ribbon at the entrance of the office. There was joy and songs of praise and ululations from women as the ribbon was cut. We got into the office and also had a surprise. For a long time we had been brainstorming on what we could possibly gift Professor Yash to appreciate his efforts and solidarity. We finally settled on giving him a portrait of himself, wearing a t shirt written “stop extra judicial killings.” The portrait was drawn by Mutua Ndereva, coordinator of the art against violence campaign in MSJC. He, Gacheke and Juliet handed Prof Yash the portrait amidst songs and dance. The look on his face was an indication that we had settled on the right gift! He loved it, he was happy! He gave a brief acceptance speech, his wife Jill did too, they were happy to be associated with MSJC.
After this we had thanksgiving remarks from Kennedy Chindi, who thanked everyone for making the time to attending the event. Juliet gave special thanks to PBI and thanked them by name for deep solidarity and friendship at all times.
We welcome all who want justice and dignity for all peoples of the world to feel at home in our office.
Please see some pictures below from the event.
Report by Juliet Wanjira.
MSJC Secretary and Reproductive Justice Coordinator.
The Mathare Social Justice Centre website is back online; after it was hacked and its database maliciously corrupted by third parties.
We will continue with our resolve to document, publish and advocate for social justice.