Social Activism in Kenya: Mainstream NGO’s vs Community Organisations:

(Updated on 18th September 2018):
I am passionate about Social Activism in Kenya and was following the justice for Sharon protests. I noticed a business-like competition between Mainstream NGO’s and Grassroots Organisations. This made me question: Which Social Activists are genuinely here for Human Rights? Is Social Activism in Kenya all about how much money or meeting donors demands?

Social Activism in Kenya has played a key role to ensure people’s rights are upheld and protected. I have seen the well known Maina Kiai, Agnes Odhiambo, Okiya Omtatah and many more do just that. I have also seen grassroots activists like Beatrice Waithera Maina, Ruth Mumbi, Racheal Mwikali among others. They are from informal settlements and have taken the front line in the fight against injustice in their communities. Then we have established NGO’s which I will be talking about here.

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How much money do social activists make in Kenya?

How much do Social Activists get paid? How else do they make money? Can social Activism be a career? Who pays the activists? Is there a fixed salary? Do activists have a place of work?

I got the answer to some of these questions from a teenage activist based in Kibera. Her name is Peris, 19 years old. Social Activism has been her part-time job for the last two years. Along with her friends, they each get paid between Ksh 200/= – Ksh 3000/= ($ 2.00 USD – $ 30.00 USD) to participate in protests and conferences.

It is not a sustainable means of income but helps when it comes. Organisations get their names and contact details and have them on call. When a gig is available they are contacted. After the protest, they leave their signatures and get paid. They never hear from these organizations again until the next job comes.

Social Activism in Kenya has played a key role to ensure people's rights are upheld and protected. I have seen the well-known @Maina_Kiai‏, @AgnesOdhiambo, @OkiyaOmtatah and many more do just that. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

Women protest at Jeevanjee Gardens over the brutal murder of Sharon Otieno

The #JusticeforSharon conversation brought about different perspectives and sparked controversial opinions. Despite unclear details and the people involved, community activists decided to stand up and speak about it. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

The delicate nature of the Justice for Sharon conversation:

The Justice for Sharon conversation brought about different perspectives and sparked controversial opinions. Despite unclear details and the people involved, community activists decided to stand up and speak about it.

They approached mainstream NGO’s with an idea to organize a #JusticeForSharon protest. Perhaps due to the delicate nature of Sharon’s case, all the established organizations approached refused to commit or join the community activists.

Driven by pure intentions to speak on behalf of Sharon, the community activists decided to go ahead with the protest. Regardless of the lack of resources, they managed to mobilize people from the community.

The protest was quickly put together and planning was done organically via facebook, twitter, whats app and word of mouth. The march was very successful. The group decided that they will follow up their street action with a vigil at Tom Mboya monument at 6 pm on Friday 14th.

Organic Protests by genuinely concerned Community Members:

The protest in form of a March finally happened on Tuesday, 11th September. It was very successful. People showed up and added they collective voice to call for Sharon’s Justice. The group decided that they will follow up their street action with a vigil at Tom Mboya monument the coming Friday, 14th September at 6:00 pm.

A day later, mainstream NGOs realized they missed an opportunity. For some reason, they felt the need to add their voice to the campaign. They suddenly decided to organize a separate protest on the same day the vigil was meant to be done.

Organic Protests by genuinely concerned Community Members can happen without the incentive of money, recognition or any form of compensation. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Members of the public protest after police locked them out of the Homa Bay law courts where Michael Oyamo, a suspect in the killing of Ms Sharon Otieno, was arraigned on September 10, 2018. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Social Activism in Kenya: Members of the public protest after police locked them out of the Homa Bay law courts where Michael Oyamo, a suspect in the killing of Ms Sharon Otieno, was arraigned on September 10, 2018. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Two Protests: Same day, Same Time, Same Human Rights Issue…

So we now have two groups protesting on the same issue on the same day. One is organic and purely voluntary, the other is ‘organized’ with the purpose of ticking donor forms.

Why they couldn’t support the initial idea and make this bigger and better gives us a glimpse of how the NGO World in Kenya has become a marketplace that lacks ideas on how to engage the common wananchi and genuine activists.

Two Protests: Same day, Same Time, Same Human Rights Issue... Why? One of the undeniable Reasons why People Hate protests! #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

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3 Things that Make a Protest Successful:

What makes a successful Protest? Social Activism in Kenya is not just about protests and protests are not just about protesting. There’s so much more…

Looking at the events surrounding last weeks Justice for Sharon protest, we failed at two things: Having two protests sent a message of disorganization and portrayed the wrong message from the human rights groups.

For the cause to be successful, there have to be at least three things which mostly lack in most protests in Kenya:

  1. Well organized team:

    The organization of a protest goes beyond marching t-shirts. It is about a shared strategy. I have seen protests where the people in the crowd have no idea what is going on. This happens when people are paid to participate and it highly dilutes the reason behind any protest.

  2. Clear message:

    Are you speaking one voice or do the people participating have a different voice? Without a well-organized team, it is almost impossible to have a clear message. The target group towards which the protest is aimed at will not even understand what you want.

  3. Non-Violence:

    Police are always ready to break out any protests. Violence is one of the main triggers that they use as an excuse to stop any protest from even happening. With disorganization within the protesting team, violence can easily come up thus diverting the protest’s main goals.

What makes a successful Protest? At least these three things: 1.) Well organized team 2.) Clear message 2.) Non-Violence #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement. Payments to thousands who were tortured during 1950s insurgency could open door for other victims of British colonial rule

Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement. Payments to thousands who were tortured during 1950s insurgency could open door for other victims of British colonial rule | THE GUARDIAN

The survival of democracy in Kenya depends on Social Activism:

For us to ensure our Government and leaders are working towards the welfare of the common mwananchi, we need social activism. There may be other means and tools but social activism is key.

However, a few people and organizations are wrecking havoc and destruction to the institution of Social Activism that has saved many lives. With the present ruthless killings, shameless injustice and corruption, the majority of poor people in Kenya are the ones who suffer the most.

Some people only have the vote in their hand. However, this vote has become almost useless because the act of voting does not trickle down to their living standards. It is such people who will benefit from Activism.

Some people only have the vote in their hand. However, this vote has become almost useless because the act of voting does not trickle down to their living standards. It is such people who will benefit from Activism. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

There’s a woman in Kibera who can not afford to leave her kibanda. So she depends on the efforts of someone like Okiya Omtata to spend days and nights fighting the justice system on her behalf. But with the current trend, Activism is being diluted and reduced to reports. Our selfish motives will end up soiling the positive impact that Social Activism in Kenya has had on many peoples lives.

Activist OKiya Omtatah moves to court seeking orders to bar the implementation of police reforms.

Social Activism in Kenya: Activist OKiya Omtatah moves to court seeking orders to bar the implementation of police reforms. | STANDARD MEDIA

Social Activism in Kenya: Activist @OkiyaOmtatah moves to court seeking orders to bar the implementation of police reforms. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

Is it possible to have Non-monetised Protests?

The North African Arab Spring of 2011, is an example of an organic protest that rekindled the potential for political change in Africa. People used basic tools like radio, social media, and political art to transform ideologies that have been rooted in their community for decades.

There have been other protests which were organized by genuine grassroots activists with no money. Examples are #EndKNHRot, #STOPTHESETHEVES, and the olive restaurant #BreastFeedingIsARight protest. The grassroots activists may not have the money or the muscle to mobilize and print fancy t-shirts and posters but we have the people’s interest at heart. Eat your money career activists but don’t come in between the people and justice.

Kenya is hurtling down so fast and civil society will be our only redeemer but how do you redeem people when all you focus on is ticking some donor forms?

There have been other protests which were organized by genuine grassroots activists with no money. Examples are #EndKNHRot, #STOPTHESETHEVES, and the olive restaurant #BreastFeedingIsARight protest. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

Are some of these NGO’s contributing to Imperialism and Neo-Colonisation?

Systematic manipulation through social institutions like Education, Politics, and Mass media, has always been used to maintain the status quo. If anyone has a sentiment that opposes generally accepted ideas, they are seen as a threat.

To prevent dissent, people’s thoughts have gradually been shaped into a rigid collective consciousness that discourages flexibility in thought and difference of opinion.

As seen in the past, ruling categories have always trusted the powerful state equipment and social establishments to defend their power, profits, and privileges. This is well put by James Petras in his thoughts about NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism.

To prevent dissent, people’s thoughts have gradually been shaped into a rigid collective consciousness that discourages flexibility in thought and difference of opinion. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
PHOTO | FILE Former President Daniel Moi hands over to his successor Mwai Kibaki in 2002. AFP

Social Activism in Kenya | PHOTO | FILE Former President Daniel Moi hands over to his successor Mwai Kibaki in 2002. AFP

4 Main Roles of Social Change, Activism and Advocacy in Society with Simplifies Examples:

The roles of activists in Kenya should be focused on elevating the most pressing needs of the people.

The role of Social activists has not always been positive. It is true that activism has brought down dictatorships, ended slavery, prevented environmental degradation and much more. However, it has also endorsed war and ignited oppression.

Bill D. Moyers worked as the White House Press Secretary. He is a professional journalist and political narrator based in the US.

The following is the over-simplified version of a tool he created called the Four Roles of Social Activism. It attempts to break down the roles of social activists into 4 distinct descriptions (See end links details):

  1. To be a CITIZEN who is trusted by society to articulate the vision of a better society.
  2. To be a REBEL and build up creative tension when stakeholders forget their civic duty.
  3. To be a SOCIAL CHANGE AGENT who informs the public and fosters sustainable change.
  4. To be a REFORMER who uses dialogue and institutional means of attaining real change.

In his article on RE.FRAMING ACTIVISM about Paying for the Revolution in Monopoly Money, Julian Gottlieb talks of strategic adapting. He emphasizes the need for movements to adjust with the changing times. He further expresses his surprise at how obvious it this seems yet people don’t seem to get it.

Julian Gottlieb gives the example of Protesting Trump’s America: Nationwide Demos Continue Against Racism, Xenophobia & Islamophobia. He also quotes from The End of Protest A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White:

Protesters recycle tactics that have been overused for decades and are simply destined to fail today. – Micah White

What is Social Change and Who is a Social Change agent?

Social change is a gradual process that involves the wholesome transformation of status quo in a society through methodical improvement and altering of social institutions, mannerisms, and individual or institutional correlation. It is a systematic evolve as a result of adjusting traditional social norms that result in inevitable change.

A social Change Agent can simply be defined as anyone who serves as an instrument through which social change is achieved. In that sense, social activists are change agents by virtue of their involvement in the improvement of other peoples lives.

3 Types of Social Change Agents:

Examples of 3 types of social change agents in the context of colonial Africa:

  1. Freedom Fighters who risked their lives and went against the establishments to ensure independence in most African countries.
  2. Political Figures who confidently took over power and positions of leadership to steer our countries towards democracy and independence.
  3. Artists and Musicians who continually feed the hopes of the masses with redemption songs of freedom.
We have seen #Courage with @HEBobiwine in Uganda. We have seen #Persistence with @Farida_N in Togo. We have seen #Change with @PastorEvanLive in Zimbabwe... There's nothing that can stop change apart from change itself.… Click To Tweet

Importance of Advocacy and it’s relation to Social Change

Advocacy is an important tool whose main role is to feed into social change. Whether it is self-advocacy or citizen advocacy, it plays a significant role in the attainment of equity.

The significant importance of social change in the society outweighs any politics surrounding it. People’s lives and sometimes the whole community can be transformed forever by the action of one Activist. Similarly, the inaction on one person can  The causes of social change are debatable. It could

Advocacy has been used as a strategy to achieve social change. Advocacy programs are designed and implemented to influence policy and policymakers decisions. Advocacy targets the most vulnerable in the society and ensures their voice is heard and rights protected. One of the 5 main principles of Advocacy are:

What is the future of Social Activism in Kenya?

Regardless of all the drawbacks that human rights activists are facing in Kenya, there is an unstoppable force building up. We have seen Courage with Bobi Wine in Uganda. We have seen Persistence with Farida Nabourema in Togo. We have seen Change with Evan Mawarire in Zimbabwe… There’s nothing that can stop change apart from change itself.

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What next? What role can I as a common mwananchi play?

It is time for you to play your part. You don’t have to be paid to speak out about your rights. You don’t need to have money to contribute to a cause, you can give time, resources, your voice and much more. If you have the money, support a cause not because of CSR but for the genuine need for the betterment of society.

It is time for you to play your part. You don't have to be paid to speak out about your rights. You don't need to have money to contribute to a cause, you can give time, resources, your voice and much more. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Activists demonstrate in Nairobi County on September 11, 2018 in a demand for justice for murdered Rongo University student Sharon Otieno, who was seven months pregnant. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Social Activism in Kenya: Activists demonstrate in Nairobi County on September 11, 2018 in a demand for justice for murdered Rongo University student Sharon Otieno, who was seven months pregnant. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Social Activism in Kenya: What next? What role can the common mwananchi play? #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

Feedback on the War between Mainstream NGO’s and Community Organisations:

I have received both positive and negative feedback on this and I will highlight some of the responses here:

This is the reason we are where we at as the nation, Greed has overpowered us in so many ways, I have met people who post on Facebook that they help children and went to meet them in person so that I could organize with the well wishers on how they can send them funds but what I saw on the ground was a people trying to use poor children some who are orphaned to build a name on this platforms to exploit those children, this has happened to me in three different countries, this world is so sick. I ended up not connecting them with the well wishers coz I don’t want anyone to be coned under my name. – Sasha

 

This is a murder case. Period. It’s an issue to do with administration of justice. Nothing to do with gender imbalances or women rights. The person that was murdered just happens to be a woman. We SHOULD be fighting for effective administration of justice, regardless of the gender of the victim. -Willson

Activism in Kenya: Is it possible to have Non-monetised Protests? #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

Allow me to have a different opinion on this. I find it needless to have protests to coerce the investigative agencies to have the perpetrators of Sharon death (rip) punished. I feel that they are already doing that. Still, it is important to understand that criminal justice system doesn’t work depending on the public pressure and emotions but on facts and law. – Peter

 

The only thing that matters to those big NGOs is donor money sadly. It is business for people. – Sahara

 

In the run up to 08.08.2017 many NGOs were more concerned with stopping a Raila candidature than holding the government and IEBC accountable and committed to credible elections. An d look where we are? None of them now dare even speak out about the ongoing rot. On the rights of the girl child, I have always held that many NGOs established to fight for women focus on supporting women who are perfectly capable of fighting for themselves because they have the resources than on fighting for the women who actually need them. In short, they are special clubs for the select which depend on donor funds to run their activities. – Emm

The North African Arab Spring of 2011, is an example of an organic protest that rekindled the potential for political change in Africa. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

Aren’t these the same NGOs who have been inflating the numbers in Kibera in order to get a bigger purse from their sponsors at the expense of the slum dwellers? Nothing new here my brother. NGOs in Kenya are cut from the same cloth as the current regime. – Austyn

 

Talking of NGOs I know of several working Nyanza in the name of fighting HIV but all they do is pay people to attend some conferences in a hotel and that’s it. Sometimes the payment isn’t even made to the participants – Onyango

 

Thank you for telling the truth , truth that many of us won’t tell ” to avoid being blacklisted from the donors list – Shiko

Social Activism in Kenya: Mainstream NGO’s vs Community Organisations: #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet
Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

Social Activism in Kenya: Kenyans hold demos in Nairobi over corruption scandals. #STOPTheseTHIEVES

The NGOs will now come trouping like ants on a rainy day not because of justice but they smell cash flow especially from the implicated parties. – Kanyi

 

Been there, am there and the the whole thing tell you is a mal drama of commercial opportunism in the name of ‘civil (evil) society’ with under cuts and deals. The annoying bit is that some of those crusaders are well known slayers of the big shorts in the CS and political arena. #ReapingOpportunity it is. – Ngulli

 

Civil Society failed to demand their IEBC Selection Panel conduct a fair, transparent and merit based recruitment exercise; their silence is complicity in the $600 million botched scarcely credible 2017 elections. To date all these usual suspects do is collect donor money, hold seminars and conferences and cover up their lack of integrity and moral courage! – Andrew

For us to ensure our Government and leaders are working towards the welfare of the common mwananchi, we need social activism. There may be other means and tools but social activism is key. #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet

Journalist abducted alongside Sharon Otieno narrates ordeal

Social Activism in Kenya is not just about protests and protests are not just about protesting. There's so much more... #FatumasVoiceForum Click To Tweet