What is People-Centered Justice?

The other day one of my exciting entrepreneurs reached out to ask me what I meant by people-centered justice. I was surprised by the question since I had always held his work as deeply people-centered. Of course on reflection later on I realized that the work I do and that of many change-makers, social entrepreneurs, and do-gooders is often coded in high terms. Which for the most part we hope would resonate with a larger audience or become a rallying call for change as we build a better world. However, our well-meaning positioning can often get lost in translation, obfuscation and become misunderstood.

So today I wanted to have a conversation on what people-centered justice is?

For many centuries since the first codification of law through the Code of Hammurabi, the legal framework has evolved into a set of rules of what was permissible and what was not, always centered on who had the dominant jurisdiction on culture, authority, standards of morality and ultimately power. Even the word enforce means to ‘impose by force’ and is a key component of the government’s role.

In essence, the law became interpreted by those in power as a battering ram to compel than to mediate or facilitate human relations. This afterglow has always represented an ongoing tug of war in post-independence Africa where the majority of statutes were formulated and passed during the colonial period. These laws were steeply antiblack, pro-imperialist, and in texture, white supremacist. Often bent on subjugation and keeping the natives in line.

Unfortunately, the post-independent elite maintained the status quo. Substituting the colonial master with the black neophyte memorized by Franz Fanon in “Black Skins White Master’s’’ book. They continued the colonial project unabated in policy, law, and institution.

So why is this brief history lesson important?

It is essential that we understand the genesis of our laws and how they intersect with our everyday lives. How the formulation of these laws is often punitive than positive. And most importantly how the voice of ordinary people is lost, banished, and dehumanized in the justice system. Our justice system needs radical transformation. Our constitution has provided a useful tool by centering the Kenyan people and reclaiming their sovereign power back from the political class.

Systems of oppression take time to dismantle. They are so pervasive and endemic that it is often difficult to disentangle them from the institutions and processes we build. However, when we begin the conversation with the person, ask about her needs, his justice journey, how accessible or affordable justice is to them then we invariably begin to transform the system.

In conclusion, people-centered justice simply means putting people at the center of everything we do, by trying to better understand them and by making connections between those who can bring relief to their unmet justice needs.


Article by Eric K. Mwangi


The phrase “be your sister’s and brothers’ keeper” as often taught from a young age, is now an everyday reminder for the communities here in East Africa, as they implement innovations meant to keep each other safe. Community-driven security initiatives are now common across the region, with some countries implementing them more than others. These are systems and measures put in place and led by the community to ensure the general safety of the people. During a webinar held on 25th February, Mr. David Gitonga from the Regional Commissioners office in Kenya explained that the Nyumba Kumi Initiative (meaning ten houses) is one of the systems put in place. It is a term coined from the number of houses that were initially supposed to be part of the initiative in the community but ended up being adapted to more than just ten houses. It is very successful in Tanzania and has been received greatly by communities aiming at improving security in their regions in Kenya as well.

The Nyumba Kumi initiative sole’s strategy is to make sure its members from the community, are aware of their neighbors and in the long run take charge of their own security in fighting crime around them. It addresses issues such as terrorism, inter-clan clashes, and housebreakings. The initiative consists of clusters of people with a common interest, in this case, security, and it ensures that the community participates in promoting a safe environment for themselves. This is important because according to Mr. Gitonga, the ratio between security agencies and civilians is 1:450 in Kenya, meaning a police officer is in charge of 450 people, which becomes a challenge in effectively maintaining peace.

Community driven security initiatives, encourage the locals through public awareness, to be involved in monitoring and relaying threats to the relevant government agencies. In the long run, this promotes cooperation, trust, and confidence between the local people and the institutions responsible for security, by creating openness and accountability between the two. It also reduces the need for private investments in security systems and the authorities can tap into the community knowledge on affairs on the ground therefore, easily mobilizing the locals in case of an emergency.

Innovation has played a big part in some of these initiatives taking off. For example, in Uganda, Anatoli Kirigwajjo, the CEO and The founder of Yunga Technologies http://yunga-ug.com/, and his team, have invented a security system that alerts the whole neighborhood and police in case of a threat or a crime. “Reporting and following up of crime would take a while, and to curb this, we invented a system that when activated, sends an alert to other neighbors and the police in the event of a disturbance, hence catching the crime in action.” Mr. Kirigwajjo explained. As a way to support this great innovation Yunga Technologies received 10,000 Euros from The Hague Institute of Law and Innovation to facilitate smooth running in their operations. Their motivation; the three founders had each experienced housebreakings and robberies hence decided to curb the problem at the root, finding a solution for them and others, as the liable authorities were known not to follow up on such cases, meaning no compensation or justice was ever achieved.

Some of the challenges Yunga Technologies has faced include high taxation experienced during shipping the spare parts into the country and local investors not trusting the innovation enough to fund it. However, they have achieved a lot from when they started and have won various awards for connecting 300 households, preventing 40 crimes from occurring, and forming a union in the community. This has been made possible through their collaboration with the local police and HiiL Justice Accelerator. Although sustainability may have been a challenge they managed to get revenue from it. There is a high demand for the product but they do not let this come in the way of quality. Their mission is to connect 30,000 houses in the next 24 months and to do this they need 100,000 US dollars. Their long term mission is to connect 5 million houses in the entire East Africa region and beyond in the next 10 years. As their main challenge is financing the project, they hope that they will have more strategic partners moving forward.

To further encourage the collaboration between the authorities and the community, police officers participate in day-to-day activities in the community like offering security during church services and organizing tournaments between the locals and the authorities. Counties have implemented action plans and forums on WhatsApp where the locals can directly interact with their leaders, and are encouraged to use the Mulika Application, which is an anonymous messaging platform that facilitates citizens’ participation in National Security, to report crime as it occurs to the senior officers.

Members of the community are encouraged not to shy away from coming up with inventions that will promote security and safety in their communities. Some tips on ensuring that their inventions and initiatives work; is to interact with people who’ve already started such initiatives in order to avoid making similar mistakes and to make their process seamless, to research with the community on the gaps in the systems and what their needs are, and most importantly to invest highly in the teams’ values and overall agenda. Finally, for any community-driven initiative to work, the community needs to know its members and to remember that the police are not the enemy. #innovativejustice #communitydrivensecurity

Article written by Annebelle Wafula