Crime & Justice

Boxing and free legal advice: empowerment tools in a Kenyan slum

By Lucía Blanco Gracia

Nairobi, Apr 16 (EFE).- The shuffling of feet on a concrete floor and the sharp hiss of air punches intertwine with conversations about laws and rights in the Mathare slum in eastern Nairobi, where boxing and free legal advice are empowering the local community.

Shadrack Wambui, a lawyer and the man behind the Sheria Mtaani project, which offers Mathare residents an unorthodox blend of free boxing classes and legal advice, tells Efe there is a saying in Kenya.

“Mnyonge Hana Haki (“the poor have no rights,” in English). It has been true for a very long time.”

The NGO’s base is a somewhat dilapidated building whose interior walls have been brightened by a lick of paint.

In the morning, it serves as a space for Mathare residents to get legal advice on anything ranging from small conflicts to crime.

By the evening, the interior yard is transformed into a gym where Wambui and his trainer, Ian Omesh, teach around a dozen youngsters how to throw a mean right hook.

“Our mission is to give a voice to the people who can’t afford to have a voice within the Kenyan system, which some people say punishes the poor,” Abel Asuma, lawyer and treasurer at Sheria Mtaani, says.

Although Kenya’s constitution grants all citizens the right to a fair trial, including the right to legal representation, the reality in the East African nation is that the system remains prohibitive for those without financial resources, which means large swathes of the population have no legal protection.

This was one of the factors the lawyers at Sheria Mtaani decided to install themselves in the Mathare slum, rather than in one of Nairobi’s  leafy residential areas, like many other NGOs do.

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