Born in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, Juliet Wanjira has been a close witness to street violence, police brutality, impunity and the overwhelming inequality of the slums. Her journey and the journey of many other human rights defender has embedded them in the struggle to improve living conditions for Nairobi’s 2.5 million slum dwellers.
For years, the urban settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, have suffered various forms of structural violence, including land grabbing, forced evictions, police abuse and extrajudicial killings, political impunity and other economic, social and psychological violations. This violence has been allowed to go on without any retribution to the community, especially as most of the community continues to live in fear of the consequences of standing up for their rights.
In order to address these issues, a collective of young community members and experienced social justice activists in Mathare informal settlement came together in 2015, founding the Mathare Social Justice Centre. The MSJC’s mission is to promote social justice by means of community engagement and the use of social movement platforms. Since 2015, the MSJC has undertaken a number of organizing activities with all cross-sections of the community and have focused on the documentation of extrajudicial killings.
In 2017 just one SJC was operating in Kenya, today there are 28, each striving to promote social justice and protect human rights in their communities. The larger centres reach out to between three and five thousand community members. The fact that the movement of SJCs has been able to grow at this pace and in these conditions is remarkable. In September 2019, the first Social Justice Centre in Uganda was opened, showing the interest of grassroots activists in other countries and showing potential for expanding the concept of SJCs in the area of East Africa or further.