February 27th 2015: What are the challenges, opportunities and the future of activism in Kenya given recent trends


1.     Who is an activist?

2.     What conversations do we have with ourselves that stop us from being activists? Both Internal conversations and External environment?

3.     What keeps us from being successful in what we do?

4.     What prevents us from creating more activists around us?

Constitutional Provisions

Article 1 (1) All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and shall be exercise only in accordance with this Constitution


1.     Activism refers to public action often through use of vigorous campaigning to realise social or political change.

2.     There are different types of activism:

-       Welfare activism

-       Public interest activism

-       Corporate activism – CSR

-       Development activism – community activism

-       Political party activism

-       Cultural activism – Arts, poetry and music

-       Issue based activism -

-       Place based activism – residents associations e.g. Kilimani Project, Mustard Seeds - Dandora etc

-       Self – interest activism such as unions

-       Online activism

3.     Citizens have been described as apathetic, seeking private solutions when government fails them.  

4.     The new Constitution however opens' new possibilities for citizenship by entrusting sovereign power to the people of Kenya.

5.     The vision of citizenship in the Constitution potentially creates an activist in every single person.

6.     However, citizens continue to shy away from activism, and perceive current Kenyan activists as working alone, strong headed, combative and seeking the limelight for fame and attention.  

7.     This picture of an activist is therefore not attractive to many.

8.     Activism is not new in Kenya, dating as early as the colonial period.  Some of the most famous Kenyan activists include:

-       Mekatilili wa Menza, a woman who led the Giriama people in the rebellion against the British colonial administration and policies from 1913 until her death in 1914.

-       Harry Thuku criticised British colonial policies in Kenya, especially the forced labour system.  Thuku moved from district to district speaking against forced labour and imposition of hut taxes.  

-   Kenyan women had been particularly supportive of Harry Thuku’s movement because he campaigned for the abolition of forced labour on women. Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru lead a demonstration to have Harry Thuku released during his  arrest in 1922.

-       Rev. Timothy Njoya was involved in the struggle for multiparty democracy;

-       The late Prof. Wangari Maathai was involved in environmental conservation including saving Uhuru Park and Karura forest,

-       Prof. Wangari Maathai was also involved in leading the mothers of political prisoners to demand for the release of their sons in the 90’s.

-       The late Hon. George Muchai, was involved in fighting for workers’ rights.

-       Boniface Mwangi, has been known to boldly question corruption, poor leadership and governance.

-       Irungu Houghton known for standing with the children of Langata Road Primary School to reclaim their land.

9.     Activists do not also create themselves.  They are created by moments in time that generate passion and outrage.  They are also created by individual who called them to be great.  We often forget the people and the movements behind the activists.

-       Behind Martin Luther King was the Southern Leadership Christian Conference,

-       Behind Malcom X was Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam

-       Behind Kwame Nkrumah was W.E.B Du Bois who advised Nkrumah to focus on peace building in Africa.

-       Behind Paula Kahumbu is a range of people supporting the wildlife campaign

-       Behind Wangari Maathai was the Green Belt Movement

-       Behind Boniface Mwangi is PAWA 254,

-       Behind Nelson Mandela was Oliver Thambo and the ANC

-       Behind Bob Marley was the Wailers

10.  Behind human rights defendors and the activist community is a huge sense of betrayal, suspicion, accusation and blame towards government and different kinds of activists.  This environment that can be toxic, and closes potential for engagement and transformation of the people that activists engage with; both in government and in the arena of activism.

11.  The different spaces that are occupied by activist need to coexist mutually, building and supporting each other to do more and to be greater.

12.  Every activist should bear the responsibility of transforming the space they occupy.  As activists criticise they should never lose sight of the transformation they can bring. This attitude leaves space for engagement

13. Activists need to hold on to belief and hope in change, as the only thing that sustains them.