Gacheke Gachihi

Kenya, CAHR, Spring 2016

I am a social justice and human rights defender. Over the last fifteen years I have been involved in community organizing in Kenya building a grassroots social movement. I am a member of Bunge la Mwananchi (the Peoples Parliament) which is an organic grassroots based social movement. I participated in its formative stages, and am also the coordinator for the Mathare Social Justice Center, a community based registered organization in Mathare that conducts campaigns on political accountability and social justice and documents cases of extra-judicial killings and police brutality in low-income areas of East lands of Nairobi.

In 2000 and 2001 I worked as an intern in Kenya’s Human Rights Commission (KHRC) monitoring and documenting human violations cases and on its database for torture victims cases in the litigation fund  against torture fund (LIFAT), a project that was created by Peoples Against Torture (PAT ) Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), for public interest cases against torture. Later I worked  with the independent Medico-legal unit as a field officer in the legal department from 2005-2010, where I documented cases of extra-judicial killings and torture of youth suspected of being members of Mungiki. We bailed out victims of torture and human rights defenders’ activists. Whilst there I pioneered a sustainable cash bail revolving fund, through recovering the bail deposited with courts for human rights activists in various judicial courts in Kenya. This Cash bail revolving fund helped to bail many human rights activists who were arrested with malicious charges and this helped to build a base for grassroots human rights defenders.

In 2008 I was part of  the Human Rights Defenders team  that participated in giving reports to the Special Rapporteur, Prof. Philip Alston, on extra-judicial killings in 2008. These reports recommended the reform of Kenyan security agencies and accountability against this gross human rights violations.

While working at IMLU I organized human rights clinic and community forums against extra, judicial killings, bailed out human rights defenders, and advocated for human rights  jurisprudence  through petitioning  court on public interest litigation.  For example we filed  a case against the Truth and Justice Commission for limiting the investigation of human rights violations during  Kibaki regime era that related to extra-judicial killings. I also participated in filing petition cases in the high court of Kenya constitutional division   against stopping illegal assembly cases.  More recently, I co-founded with other human rights defenders the Unga Revolution, a grassroots movement to address the right to food relating to social inequality in Kenya as well as organizing the Unga Tax protest, a tax justice campaign to demand a reduction in the cost of living.

My consciousness evolved during years when I was involved in car washing in Huruma village Mathare in early 1993 after I was displaced as a victim of ethnic violence from Rift valley of Kenya during  the post-election violence of  1992. In Nairobi I was subjected to brutality by Nairobi city council askaris. This led me  to seek legal assistance from human rights  organizations and through these contacts I joined a pro- reform movement for constitutional change from 1997. Through participation and distribution  of  leaflets for the pro-democracy movement Saba Saba, rallies and the “no reforms no election” protest in Uhuru Park and Kamukunji we made demands for a new constitution. Later in 1999 because of my political activism I was invited to be a member of  National Convention Executive Council NCEC which was a vanguard for constitutional reforms in Kenya. My role was as a council member representing  grassroots social movements and it was a great political opportunity that gave me civic and political space to interact with constitutional reform movement leaders.

It was during this time that I started organizing the youth in Mathare slum Huruma car wash and formed a community based youth network named Kasarani Starehe youth network (Kasta). We partnered with Green belt movement to organize Civic and Enviromental community dialogue that Prof. Wangari Mathai was conducting.  At Green Belt Headquaters in Kilimani Nairobi, named (Kwimenya) to consciously  know yourself. Thereafter we would start Green groups in our areas, to plant trees in Kariobangi Market (1999-2000). This youth body helped to evolve a  critical grassroots social movement  that would provide support to reform movement  during  the negotiation of  Merger of Peoples commission led by the late Dr. Oki Ombaka and Prof. Yash Ghai Commission on constitutional reform at Ufungamano House meetings that was organized by Peoples Commission Interfaith initiative for people driven constitutional review.

During Saba Saba memorial commemoration of 2001 in July 7 I was at historic freedom corner, with pro- reform movement  leaders from National Convention Executive Council  (NCEC) Muuguno wa Mageuzi, Green belt Movement and other social movement that were demanding  democratic change.  We were tear gassed, and arrested.  That day we had organized  tree planting in commemoration of  the youth who were killed in 1990 and 1997 during opposition pro-democracy reform  rallies. Where  the late Nobel Laurent Prof Wangari Maathai was to plant a tree in Freedom Corner in memory of the youth killed in the pro- democracy struggle the gathering was teargassed, and we were arrested and tortured  in the central police station in Nairobi, a police station  that came to define my struggle in building grassroots movements Bunge La Mwananchi  (People’s Parliament).

From 2000, Bunge la Mwananchi set up Hema la Katiba (Constitution Tent) at the popular Kencom Bus Stage in the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) for civic education outreach campaign mobilised and created awareness in advancing the right to organise, and participation  in constitutional reform process and on August 27  2010 Kenya voted in a new constitution, after a struggle that many people paid a price for, in defence of democracy and social justice. Today Bunge la Mwananchi has grown from organic debates in Jeevanjee Gardens to a nationwide social movement  with   active grassroots community chapters and platforms  to be found in various parts of the country. In Nairobi, there are Bunge La Mwananchi  chapters in Kawangware and Mathare, Kangemi. Apart from these, there are Bunge chapters in Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Eeldoret., civic spaces that continue to amplify the grassroots voices of marginalized human rights defenders.

My fellowship with the Centre for Applied Human Rights in the University York is due to expose the risk of criminalization of our human rights defenders and judicial harassment through malicious prosecutions in Kenya, by the government that was elected in 2013. Impunity is closing civic space for civil society to organize themselves against the regime. This has exposed me and other human rights activist to risk  and malicious prosecution as on  the morning of 18 December 2014, during a peaceful and non-violent protest outside the National Assembly against the Draconian Security Bill, 8 HRDs including myself, were arrested, and brutally beaten, tortured and detained illegally at Central Police Station before being taken to Court on 19 December 2014 where we were charged maliciously with allegation of “Taking part in an Unlawful Assembly Contrary to Section 79 of the Penal Code” a charge that violates constitution article 37 and "Incitement To Violence Contrary to Section 96 of the Penal Code by Singing Polisi Ni Wale Wale wa Ukoloni". (Police are still having colonial mind)

gacheke gachihi photo of human rights defenders

The court gave us prohibitive bond terms of KSh300000 which was intended to detain us in prison for many days in order to intimidate us and stop our demands for accountability from the regime. Our case was contrary to the Article 48 of our constitution which states that the state shall ensure access to justice and fair trial.

The fellowship at York gives me an opportunity to reflect and network with scholars and human rights activists in the global human rights movement and to conduct studies and research on how to improve human rights campaigns and build a unified grassroots human rights defenders movement in Kenya through participatory action research as part of the unfinished democratization struggle in my country.