Innovations in legal empowerment education and land rights for the urban poor

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 13 May 2015

The land scramble in Africa has been going on for decades. Over the past 10 years the capture of prime real estate in Nairobi and across Kenya has been the source of widespread protests, civil disputes, and brutal police reprisals. In late January the country and international community watched in shock as police used tear gas on school children attempting to occupy their playground, which had been grabbed by a developer during the holiday season.

Though the dispute over this particular plot of land has diminished from public view, in light of the recent terrorist attacks against students at Garissa University the insecurity faced by millions of Nairobians remains a source of constant worry and stress. In a country with one lawyer to every 5,000 individuals, it is often difficult for low-income Kenyans to access even the most basic of legal services. In many instances, impoverished individuals can be imprisoned without access to representation or the information necessary to make appeals.

Founded in 1973, the Kituo Cha Sheria Legal Advice Centre began operating with a mission to empower poor and marginalized people to effectively access justice and enjoy human rights. Today the organization operates six justice centers and facilitates legal empowerment education and training courses in three prisons. Many of the clients they take on lack the ability to cover transport costs to their offices, let alone hire legal representation adequate to protect their rights.

The Centre utilizes a pro bono network of lawyers and paralegals that operate to provide education and legal services. Kituo has four primary program areas: Legal Aid and Education, Advocacy Governance and Community, Forced Migration Programme, and Research Communication and Documentation. They advance pro-poor legislation at the local and national level, represent indigent persons facing illegal encroachment on their land, and provide criminal defense. The organization specifically focuses on civil disputes related to land, labor and housing for individual and group clients.

Kituo has represented thousands of clients and successfully advocated on their behalf to stop illegal land encroachment and predatory development, protect indigent citizens facing criminal and civil charges for attempting to secure rights to their property, individuals who have been terminated from their employer without compensation for work, and those who have been forcibly evicted by wealthy private and public interests.

The struggle for land rights, housing security and employment protection are common challenges for millions in Kenyan. Nairobi's land scramble continues to evolve, and a rare victory was won by the #OccupyPlayground school children in Lanagta. However, without increased education and empowerment initiatives like those provided by the dedicated professionals at Kituo, many marginalized and low-income individuals will continue to lack an understanding of their rights and the avenues to exercise them. For the thousands who have heard of and contacted Kituo, the struggle is no longer being fought alone.

Photo: Brian Ingana

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