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Examples of successful justice innovation

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Crime and Justice Innovation in Kenya / Examples of successful justice innovation

Innovations that have scaled up and achieved financial sustainability can provide insight on what defines a ‘good’ innovation. HiiL Accelerator has recognised that innovations have potential to grow and reach sustainability when they have a strong team, a business model that enables them to become financially sustainable, are realistically scalable beyond their current market, and have an evidence-based impact model. For the innovators, innovation means hard work and long-term commitment. An enabling public sector and support from the government can make a big difference to the ecosystem, especially on innovations that operate on inherently public sectors such as criminal justice. The government and its judicial bodies can also support innovation by creating time and space, allowing out-of-the-box thinking, and welcoming innovators to the field with an open mind.

In recent years, Kenya’s innovation ecosystem – including actors from the public and private sectors – has started to explore how justice innovation can support access to justice in Kenya. Justice innovation has not yet taken the legal system by the storm. Still relatively unknown, justice innovations have struggled to define their ideas, business models, obtain funding, and provide services at scale. Despite the challenges, there are bright spots to consider: there are examples of justice innovations that have reached stability and keep delivering daily access to justice. Many of these existing innovations stem from community-based approaches, taking a proactive, holistic, and local approach to prevention and resolution. Others are more targeted in that they are designed to address specific types of crime. Both types of innovations have the potential to support Kenya’s Alternative Justice Systems (AJS) policy. 

Below we discuss some examples of Kenyan innovations which keep supporting the realisation of good criminal justice. The examples present well-known innovations which have gained attention not only locally, but also in international research literature. To collect the examples, we made use of academic research articles, online articles, and our own database of Kenyan innovations. 

Kenyan crime innovations embrace the traditional while make use of the modern

Some crime innovations are part of a broader government shift towards more peaceful and participatory ways of preventing and resolving crime. “This move came in the wake of widespread intercommunity violence, rising crime rates, and the al-Shabaab terrorist attacks in Kenya” and has resulted in the creation of so-called “hybrid” institutions at the community level over the past two decades. These hybrid institutions are modeled on traditional modes of conflict resolution and prevention but developed and rolled out by the state. Community policing initiatives like Nyumba Kumi are intended to create “synergies between state and non-state actors, institutions, and organisations in conflict management and crime prevention” and “allow the different systems to draw strength from one another.” 

Kenya’s shift towards hybrid approaches to crime and access to justice can most recently be seen in the Alternative Justice Policy (AJS) launched by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which aims to “promote robust cooperation and harmony between Alternative Justice Systems and the Court system, as well as enhance access to and expeditious delivery of justice.”

Many innovations in Kenya also make use of internet communication and mobile technology. In recent years, the capital city of Nairobi “has experienced rapid advancement in the use of mobile technology and is today considered a leading hub for ICT innovation in Africa. Open source software such as Ushahidi…have put Nairobi on the global map as a place where tech savvy youth from across Kenya, and around the world, come together to develop innovative solutions to a wide range of social, economic and security challenges.” Increasingly, internet communication and mobile technology is being used to also prevent and resolve crime. 

This approach to crime innovation has considerable potential to improve access to justice for all. Mobile phones in Kenya are increasingly internet-enabled, and mobile phone ownership in Nairobi – including the wider slum population – is “virtually universal” with “stable network coverage throughout the city.” Even in rural areas, mobile technology has proven useful and effective for improving home security, preventing livestock theft, and strengthening neighbourhood cohesion.

Below we highlight eight creative innovations that have made an impact preventing or resolving crime problems in Kenya. These examples range from community justice innovations addressing petty crime and theft to those tackling more serious and intractable crime problems such as sexual violence, bribery and extrajudicial killings.

Community justice innovations

Nyumba Kumi

Nyumba Kumi – or “ten households” in Swahili – is a crime prevention initiative that anchors community policing at the household level.

Nyumba Kumi was launched by the Kenyan government in the aftermath of the al-Shabaab terror attacks in 2013 and 2014. Together with rising crime rates across the country, the attacks highlighted the need for a new policing framework. Nyumba Kumi borrows heavily from the Tanzanian Ujamaa Policy introduced in the 1970s, and aims to increase cooperation between state and non-state actors, institutions, and organisations in conflict management and crime prevention.
The Nyumba Kumi initiative takes the household as a starting point for surveillance of community activity and crime in particular. This means that every cluster of households – whether that is a residential court, an estate, a block of households, a gated community, or a village – has its own Nyumba Kumi community policing unit. 

Ideally, the members of a Nyumba Kumi unit include: members of the public (with balanced representation in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, and religion); a representative of the business community; a county government representative; the area assistant chief, and a representative from each government policing agency with a presence in the locality. In practice however, it is rare for a Nyumba Kumi unit to include a police officer as a member.

Because Kenyan households are often close together, Nyumba Kumi members are uniquely well-positioned to report crime, conflict, and other out-of-the-ordinary activity that they see occurring in their community to the local authorities.
In urban areas, Nyumba Kumi has helped to prevent domestic violence, child abuse, and illicit brewing and drug sales, and in rural areas, it has helped to prevent theft and the trade of stolen livestock. A 2017 study found that 76.7 percent of participants agreed that Nyumba Kumi had an effect on curbing crime in Kenya.

Dandora Transformation League

Dandora Transformation League is a non-profit organisation that aims to bring about social change by transforming public spaces and empowering youth.

Dandora is a low income neighbourhood in eastern Nairobi. Originally created to provide housing for people working in the surrounding industrial areas, Dandora became to be known as a hotbed for crime after the collapse of a number of industries in the 1980s, which caused a spike in unemployment. It is also Kenya’s largest dumpsite. Every day, Dandora receives more than 2,000 metric tons of waste from Nairobi’s 4.5 million residents.

Facing limited employment opportunities, many young men in Dandora resorted to crime and violence to feed themselves and their families. The neighbourhood’s reputation caused residents to feel unsafe walking around and led to it being overpoliced, resulting in the extrajudicial execution of young people suspected of being criminals.

In 2014, Charles Gachanga and two of his friends created the Dandora Transformation League (DTL) to make a positive change in their community. They started by cleaning up the Mustard Seed housing courts, erecting new fences and gates, and transforming it into a space where residents could feel safe. With support from Robison Esialimba of the Awesome Foundation, they were able to replicate their work and partner with youth groups to create clean, green and safe spaces across Dandora.
DTL is now an umbrella body for 80 registered youth groups in Dandora. By encouraging youth groups to identify income-generating activities in the spaces they reclaim and transform, it generates new job opportunities for young people. These range from regular maintenance and monitoring of the housing courts to car washing, skate rental, urban agriculture, security and commercial parking. Local residents pay for them with monthly contributions. Through its Changing Faces Competition, DTL has mobilised teams of youth all over Nairobi to compete for the best transformation of a formerly neglected public space into a safe park, garden, or playground. This is known internationally as a placemaking approach to crime prevention.
DTL’s work has helped to lower crime rates by improving people’s sense of safety and pride in the neighbourhood. Business has increased and residents spend more time outdoors. By generating job opportunities for young people, it has created alternatives to crime and contributed to a more positive narrative about Dandora and its youth. This has led to better police accountability and reduced the number of extrajudicial killings.

As of 2016, DTL had fenced and cleaned up 139 housing courts, reduced crime levels in the areas by 70 percent, and created jobs for more than 100 young people.

Most recently, DTL has partnered with Safe Hands Kenya to set up sanitation stations at the entrance of Dandora’s housing courts to help contain the spread of the COVID-19.

Kituo Cha Sheria Legal Advice Centre

The Kituo Cha Sheria Legal Advice Centre (“KITUO") is the oldest, most experienced legal aid provider and human rights NGO in Kenya. It aims to empower the poor and marginalised and increase equity and access to justice for all.

KITUO was founded in 1973 by six young lawyers from the University of Nairobi: Willy Mutunga, David Gachukia, Steve Adere, Murtaza Jaffer, J. V. Juma, and Mary Ang’awa. In the years after Kenya achieved independence and adopted a liberal democratic Constitution, unjust colonial legal legacies, illiteracy, and lack of knowledge of the new laws made it difficult for many  indigenous Kenyans to access justice. Poor Kenyans also struggled to afford lawyers and protect their rights effectively.

At first, the six founders offered free legal advice and education from under a tree in the Ngara neighbourhood of Nairobi. Over the years, KITUO grew its funding base and partnerships and was able to establish permanent offices. These offices are strategically located to be accessible to poor and marginalised communities, including people with disabilities. They include the headquarters in Nairobi, the Mombasa regional office, the forced migration office in the Pangani suburb of Nairobi. 

Since its founding, KITUO has continued to design projects and programmes to address systemic inequality and injustice in Kenya.
KITUO established and helps operate community justice (“sheria”) centres in nine counties across Kenya, as well as in eight prisons. Each of these centres runs its own unique activities and programs, but many deliver capacity building on self-representation, legal and human rights education, training on alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and training of community paralegals to increase access to justice.  In addition to its partnership with these centres, KITUO offers the following core programmes:

    1. Legal aid and education (LEAP): LEAP provides legal aid to poor and marginalised people in select counties and prisons, who have historically not had access to legal aid and rights protection. Specifically, it offers legal services to walk-in clients at the head and branch offices, provides mobile legal education and outreach country-wide, and helps train community paralegals to increase capacity to deliver legal aid.
    2. Advocacy, governance and community partnerships (AGCP): AGCP aims to empower poor and marginalised communities to access their legal and human rights. It does this through community outreach and mobilisation as well as lobbying, advocacy, and monitoring of pro-poor policies and legislation in Kenya.
    3. Forced migration (FMP): FMP aims to address  the legal and policy needs of refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people living in urban areas of Kenya. It achieves this public interest litigation and detention and border monitoring. It also offers refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people various kinds of legal aid, including representation and assistance obtaining work permits, birth and death certificates, and identity cards.
In 2016, KITUO also launched M-Haki, a mobile app that provides legal information. By sending an SMS message to the M-Haki number 0700777333, users across Kenya can receive personalised legal advice and/or referrals from dedicated KITUO advocates within 48 hours. M-Haki reduces the costs of accessing justice by making it possible to receive advice remotely.
In recognition of its success in establishing an extensive legal aid and community justice network across Kenya and increasing access to justice for the poor and marginalised, KITUO has received numerous African and international awards over the years. In 2017, KIUTO served a total of 7,460 people through its legal aid clinics. Another 5,543 people received assistance at KITUO’s community justice centres. KITUO’s M-Haki SMS service resolved a total of 2,510 matters that same year.

In the area of crime specifically, KITUO has trained and graduated 451 paralegals in its eight prison justice centres, allowing them to provide free legal aid to other inmates who might otherwise not have access to assistance. In 2017, KITUO’s prison paralegals served a total of 981 inmates.

KITUO has scaled down its activities in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but its legal officers continue to take on all urgent and fixed court matters, participate in virtual hearings, and provide pressing information through social media and the M-Haki blog website. KITUO’s community paralegals are also providing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to prevent and address cases of gender based violence, which are on the rise as a result of the pandemic.

Innovations addressing sexual violence and child abuse

160 Girls Project

160 Girls Project is a long-term initiative that aims to hold perpetrators accountable for the epidemic sexual violence experienced by girls in Kenya by working with the law, the police, and local communities.

In 2013, the Kenyan High Court made a historic decision finding police authorities culpable for their ongoing failure to ensure that criminals were held accountable through effective investigation and prosecution of crimes involving sexual violence and child abuse. The decision was a hard-won victory of the “160 Girls Project,” a legal effort mounted by the Canadian charity the equality effect (e²) in partnership with the Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre, at Ripples International in Meru, Kenya. It secured access to justice for the 160 girls that inspired the groups to adopt the case and provided legal protection from rape.

Since the 2013 decision, the equality effect and the 160 Girls Project have turned their attention to its implementation and to holding perpetrators of defilement accountable for their crimes.
In addition to its National Implementation Project, which aims to bring about behaviour change and promote perpetrator accountability for sexual violence, the 160 Girls Project also engages in public legal education. According to the research by the equality effect (e²), community members lack information about girls’ rights and police obligations relating to rape investigation. This is a significant barrier in holding police accountable for the investigation of rape claims. Through its Kenya Public Legal Education initiative, the 160 Girls Project educates community members about the 2013 decision and related equality laws. This involves four groups of activities
    1. training community members in four pilot districts and forming Community Education Committees to spread knowledge though events involving theatre, video, song, dance, public panels, and public declarations of support through the “160 Girls + Me” campaign;
    2. the development and implementation of a “160 Girls” phone app that provides step-by-step advice to victims and their guardians about how a defilement investigation should be carried out according to Kenyan law;
    3. the development and implementation of a “Girls for Justice” peer-led training initiative to educate girls and boys about their rights to equality and right protection from sexual violence - these trainingsare led by young survivors themselves and involve role playing, case studies, song, dance, sports, art, and theatre;
    4. the development and circulation of “160 Girls” public awareness campaign materials including billboards, TV ads and programs, radio programs, social media, and short videos that can be shared online.
The goal of the Public Legal Education initiative is to empower them to engage with the police and demand that the standards of police performance and perpetrator accountability established in the Court’s decision are met.
In 2018, the 160 Girls Project started Justice Clubs at schools in four pilot districts. They have since empowered more than 25,000 girls and boys to stand up and speak out against sexual violence through this initiative. When asked about their experience with peer-to-peer legal education, all 180 Justice Club leaders reported that they felt positively about their role. Forty percent of the Justice Club leaders had at least one defilement case reported to them in the academic year and all reported that they knew how to respond. Ninety eight percent of the Justice Club leaders also changed their attitude about working with the police from negative to positive.

Since 2014, the 160 Girls Project has also successfully piloted its Police Defilement Investigation Scale Up initiative in four out of Kenya’s 27 counties. To take this human rights-based rape investigation further, the project has implemented a train-the-trainer model in which 586 middle managers will eventually be trained to train their juniors how to properly investigate claims of defilement. This implementation plan is regularly evaluated in partnership with Kenya’s National Police Service. After three years, the defilement investigation training will be integrated into the curriculum of police colleges and taken over by the National Police Service.

Innovations addressing bribery and corruption

Mulika Kenya

Mulika Kenya is a community-based crime monitoring and reporting system aimed at promoting and facilitating citizen participation in national security. It does this through Mulika Hongo, a technology platform that allows citizens to anonymously report crime, bribery and corruption by any government official.

“Mulika” means to shine a light on or to highlight in Swahili. Grace Wanjohi launched Mulika Kenya in partnership with the Nakuru County Security Team in 2015, with the goal of contributing to a corruption-free society.
Through the SMS code 988 or the Mulika app, any individual can anonymously submit information about an incident of crime, bribery, corruption or other misconduct they witnessed or experienced personally. These texts and any accompanying media are automatically forwarded (without the sender’s phone number) to a cross-agency team of security chiefs in the relevant county. These security personnel are expected to act on the texts they receive through the Mulika app in a coordinated manner.

If the report is too large to send via text, it is also possible to submit it using Mulika Kenya’s online portal.
Known for its rampant corruption, Nakuru County became the first country to launch Mulika Kenya in 2015. Nakuru County Commissioner Joshua Nkanatha praised the Mulika platform, saying it had “provided a medium through which the public can report incidences of corruption safely and anonymously” given that many fear discrimination for “snitching.” 

Mulika Kenya has since connected security teams in seven counties.

Innovations addressing political violence and enforced disappearances


Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a crowdsourcing online mapping system created to document incidents of violence and help improve the bottom-up flow of information in civil society.

Ushahidi was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya following the post-election violence in 2008. Convinced that the number of deaths was being grossly underreported by the government, the police, and the media, Ushahidi’s founders set out to create a technology to record the truth of what was happening and ultimately facilitate reconciliation. Since then, Ushahidi’s open source tools have enabled marginalised people who would not normally be given a platform to make their voice heard.
Ushahidi’s open source platform collects, manages, and visualises data. This data can be submitted by anyone at any time and from any place, giving actors who are in a position to help the real-time information they need to understand the situation and respond effectively.

In the aftermath of the 2008 election, this allowed Kenyans to text or email reports of violence from their mobile phones and form an online map of witness reports that “together compiled a more complete picture of the violence than any one organisation.” An analysis by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government confirmed that the data collected by Ushahidi in 2008 was superior to that reported by Kenya’s mainstream media, and found that it was more effective at reporting non-fatal violence and information from rural areas.

Since its founding, Ushahidi has been used for a broad range of purposes including election monitoring, crisis response, human rights reporting, wildlife tracking, citizen journalism, and public service delivery.
The open source nature of Ushahidi’s platform has allowed a number of other organisations to use it. Ushahidi maps were also used to locate survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to track the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on neighbouring communities, to provide information about the 2010 earthquake in Japan, to count votes in the 2012 US election, and to identify irregularities in the 2019 Nigerian election. Most recently, Ushahidi has helped match those affected by Nepal’s 2015 earthquake to relief efforts and document atrocities in the Syrian conflict

In total, Ushahidi has been used more than 150,000 times across 160 countries, and has crowdsourced more than 50 million reports from people around the world.

Sisi Ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K)

Sisi Ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K) – which means “We Are Peace” in Kiswahili – is an NGO that uses a combination of traditional and innovative approaches to communication and dialogue to provide civic education and prevent violence in Kenyan communities.

Inspired by the work of Ushahidi to map instances of violence, American undergraduate student Rachel Brown created SNA-K in 2011 to raise awareness about more positive developments in Kenya and promote peace.

In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, mobile phones and SMS messages in particular were used to spread rumors and organise attacks. After conducting a conflict dynamics analysis with local peace leaders in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Brown realised SNA-K could use the same technology to increase local leaders’ effectiveness and make the population less vulnerable to misinformation and rumours inciting violence.

In preparation for the 2013 elections, SNA-K developed partnerships with over fifty local organisations as well as Kenya’s largest mobile network operator, which helped SNA-K create a free mobile subscription service. It recruited and trained many of these partners to conduct community-based subscription outreach in target locations. By March 2013, SNA-K had built an SMS platform with over 65,000 subscribers in more than 20 locations. 
Throughout the 2013 election cycle, SNA-K subscribers received voter education, peace promotion, and violence prevention messages via SMS. These messages “provided information on how community members could participate in the election process, encouraged positive behavior, and responded to tensions and small-scale violence that occurred in local communities.”

SNA-K identified a number of scenarios in which their messages could be most useful, including cattle theft, rumors of a stolen election, and rumors of an impending attack on the community. For each scenario, SNA-K worked with focus groups in their target communities to co-create customised messages. These messages were further improved with the help of marketing strategist Ogilvy & Mather and ultimately disseminated at strategic points in time to interrupt destructive behaviour in the target communities. 

When exactly the messages were sent depended on a number of factors including: “when the rumor was started, how far it has spread through the community, whether groups were already reacting to the rumor, who was involved, whether there was discussion of arming or violence, and when/if actual violence broke out.

These factors were assessed by a field team of eight full-time SNA-K staff and ten volunteers, who were responsible for monitoring tensions on the ground and gathering information from partners in the weeks leading up to the 2013 elections and throughout the election process.
Following the 2013 elections in Kenya, the SNA-K team surveyed its subscribers to evaluate the usefulness of the messages they sent out. 7,347 subscribers completed Phase 1 of the survey - a free SMS-based questionnaire - and 282 different subscribers completed Phase 2, a telephone survey. In their responses, “subscribers indicated that SNA-K messages helped to provide critical election-related information, promote peace, and even helped to prevent acts of violence. For some, SNA-K was the sole source of voter information, and for others it was the only actor encouraging communities to ignore rumors and remain calm.” Ninety-eight percent of SMS survey respondents indicated that they would tell a friend to subscribe to SNA-K.

Missing Voices

Missing Voices is a group of organisations whose mission is to end enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Kenya. An extrajudicial execution is a violation of international law and can be defined as a killing by governmental authorities without the authorisation of any judicial proceeding or legal process.

The Police Reforms Working Group Kenya (PRWG-K) created the Missing Voices website in response to the denial or dismissal of the existence of government policy on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and the lack of an existing official database of these crimes. 

The majority of extrajudicial killings in Kenya are “preceded by enforced disappearance, which significantly increases whenever security agencies are engaged in eliminating suspected organised criminal groups.” Security agencies - including the police, the army, and the paramilitary police - “have also been implicated in the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions during counter-terrorism operations.”
Missing Voices aims to fill the gap in evidence on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Kenya by bringing victims’ testimony together with quantitative data. The majority of these data was collected from published reports by human rights organisations in Kenya from 2007 to present. Missing Voices verifies these data based on set definitions and standardised criterion and makes them publicly available online. The Missing Voices website serves four key functions:

    1. To provide a one stop clearing platform on all issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances;
    2. To receive live reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, which PRWG-K follows up on and seeks to verify;
    3. To promote accountability by sharing reports with oversight authorities and organisations in the working group with the capacity to pursue evidence-based reports in courts
    4. To be a resource and advocacy tool for those interested in learning more by offering stories of individual cases, a trial tracker, and datasets and reports.
The stories and data collected by Missing Voices has helped to shed light on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Kenya. The organisation has so far identified 727 people who have been killed by the police or reported missing since 2007. Fifty-nine percent of these people were shot, and battering and tear gas account for most other deaths. Only 26 people have been charged with a crime in connection to these cases. Young men account for the majority of those who have been killed or forcibly disappeared. Forty-two percent of the victims were killed as part of anti-crime operations, and Nairobi county is where the vast majority of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Kenya occur.

The examples above provide outlooks to what innovation can do at its best. Justice innovation does not come only in one type of a package, but stems from an out-of-the-box idea, enthusiastic entrepreneurial mindset, and willingness to improve people’s lives. As we can see from the baseline, the justice innovation market is far from being saturated. However, recognising a viable opportunity is not always easy. Next, we will discuss where the current opportunities for innovations lie, as recognised by the justice providers from informal and formal justice systems.