KITUO CHA SHERIA - LEGAL ADVICE CENTRE
Kituo Cha Sheria – “KITUO” is the oldest, most experienced legal aid providing and human rights non-governmental organization in Kenya, and perhaps, across the East and Horn of Africa region. It exists to empower the poor and marginalized and to enhance equity and access to justice for all.
KITUO was established on 9th July 1973, back then Kenya had adopted a fairly liberal democratic Constitution at independence. The colonial laws were not repealed or amended to suit the independence Constitution. In fact, the government progressively amended the 1969 Constitution to suit the colonial laws.
The ‘ordinances’ were simply renamed Acts of Parliament thus, an anomaly emerged because the independence Parliament had not deliberated on the laws through the normal legislative process. Most of these laws were inherently unjust because they discriminated on the basis of race, class, and gender. In addition, illiteracy and lack of knowledge of the strange laws put many indigenous Kenyans at a great disadvantage. The lawyers available were too few, very expensive and far beyond the reach of poor Kenyans. When faced with legal and human rights issues such as rent disputes, the poor residents always found themselves at a disadvantage as they did not know how to safeguard their rights or effectively access justice through the various judicial institutions.
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Nevertheless, the establishment of the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi in 1970, provided big space, far beyond what Dar-es-Salaam University could manage, thereby opening up for more law students. Subsequently, more lawyers were trained, giving rise to an emergence of a crop of young conscientious ones committed to ensure that the poor in Kenya had access to legal advice and justice. These brand of lawyers volunteered their free time in the evenings to provide advice, draft pleadings and direct helpless litigants to the respective courts or tribunals. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) which is one of the oldest Faith Based organization and engaged in advocacy and social justice, provided the physical space needed for these consultations.
It is also important to note that Kenya is among the few countries that have a vibrant civil society spread all over the country. This growth stems from the peoples’ struggles for decolonization, liberation from post-colonial oppression through political, socio-economic and legal regimes.
Subsequent to the high demand for legal advice and the dedication and work by pro bono lawyers, KITUO Cha Mashauri which later became KITUO Cha Sheria (Legal Advice Centre) was founded by young lawyers, then students at the University of Nairobi. These were Hon. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga (emeritus), Dr. David Gachukia, Senior Advocate-Steve Adere, Senior Advocate Murtaza Jaffer, Hon. Justice (Rtd) J.V Juma and Hon. Lady Justice (Rtd) Mary Ang’ awa who for a long time, sat under a tree in Ngara, within Nairobi County to offer free legal advice and education to poor Kenyans. This humble but focused and visionary work of these young lawyers at KITUO Cha Sheria inspired other professionals and social justice advocates to engage with legal aid and advice.
For a considerable time, it was only KITUO that provided pro bono legal services as there were no other organizations. Even though the government offered legal aid, the demand for KITUO’s services increased, resulting in the gradual institutional growth. It took considerable time before KITUO secured stable funding for its secretariat and programmes, until the Ford Foundation started supporting the organization in 1988. Over these years, the funding-base and partnership of KITUO has gradually expanded and currently it owns property on which the headquarters is located and there are plans to put up a ‘House of Justice’ on the same, in order to secure future sustainability of KITUO.
KITUO offices are located in strategic and accessible places by all the poor and marginalized people, including persons with disabilities. KITUO has improved accessibility of people with disability and will continue to address other related challenges. The Nairobi headquarters (HQs) is located along Ole Odume Road, (Off Argwings Kodhek Rd,) on its own property. The Mombasa regional Office is located on Kulyani Hatimy Road, Kizingo-Mombasa Opposite the Mombasa Law Courts, Mombasa. The Forced Migration Office, formerly Urban Refugee Intervention Programme (URIP) Centre is situated at KCDF House, 4th Floor Chai/ Pamba Road, off Juja Road in Pangani, Nairobi. Given the amount of work with the marginalized communities who reside in the marginal areas of Kenya, KITUO will consolidate its work and enhance a decentralization plan during the plan period through opening up more centres in the rural settings.
Currently, the number of lawyers and other full time staff is over sixty (60). With strengthened institutional framework, KITUO has rapidly expanded its programmes and more of its clientele can access justice.
Most clients of KITUO are on one hand poor and vulnerable people living in the urban slums, and on the other hand, poor and marginalized communities from the semi-Arid and Arid lands where communal conflicts and access to justice is limited due to inadequate justice, infrastructure and lack of awareness. Although the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 has a progressive Bill of Rights, the culture that has evolved in Kenya over the decades of unjust relationships between landlords and tenants especially in slum areas and workers with their employers, will take time to curb. Hence, housing, land and labour rights remain a major area of concern in accessing justice and legal advice. KITUO continued to design programmes and projects to deal with the systemic causes of inequality and injustice with particular focus on the poor across the country, including forced migrants and internally displaced persons.
Kituo has over the year been recognized for her service winning various local and international awards including the Civil Society Organization of the Year Award (2010) and the LSK Distinguished Award Winner (2014). Other accolades include the BBC Radio Documentary- One Media Award for prison paralegal work in Shimo La Tewa Prison (2014), nomination for the Rockefeller Foundation award (2013), nomination for the Innovative Justice Award by the University of Tilburg (The Hague) and most recently the NGO Leadership Award 2016 at the 6th Africa NGO Leadership Awards. Kituo Cha Sheria’s M-Haki team also participated in the World Justice Challenge that took place during the World Justice Forum from 29th March-2nd May 2019 in The Hague, Netherlands. M-Haki was selected from over 250 applications received in total as one of 30 projects to be showcased at World Justice Forum VI. The Challenge was central to showcasing successful solutions that deliver justice and strengthen the rule of law.