To retreat or to confront? Grassroots activists navigating everyday torture in Kenya

by Wangui Kimari

10 May 2022
Journal of the British Academy
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Number of pages
17 (pp.79-96)

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Abstract: How do grassroots activists in Kenya protect themselves from torture and related forms of violence when formal protection mechanisms are not guaranteed? In answering this question, this article details the diverse tactics activists use to keep safe while doing unsafe work. Informed by the concept of social navigation, I explore two broad Kiswahili emic terms that capture what I refer to as their tactical retreats and confrontations in the face of torture and violence: kujitoa and kupenya. By elaborating on these tactics to keep safe, key gaps and tensions in the implementation of formal protection mechanisms in Kenya are made evident, while also highlighting the importance of grassroots activism(s) as the ‘first line of defense’ in the protection of communities at risk in Kenya.

Keywords: Protection, activists, torture, social navigation, Kenya.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 10, supplementary issue 3 (Human Rights Protection and Torture).

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