On 26 November 2021, Defenders Coalition (National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Kenya) and the Working Group on Human Rights Defenders feted outstanding work of defending human rights by rights activists despite great difficulties. The award winners were announced by Former Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga led a panel of judges at a ceremony hosted by Ambassador Caroline Vicini at the Residence of the Swedish Ambassador in Nairobi.

The 2021 winners are:

  • Human Rights Defender of the Year: 1) Njeri Migwi, a women rights champion and  2) Athumani Mohamed a Muslim clergy that champions gender identity and inclusion rights.
  • Upcoming Human Rights Defender of the Year: 1) Halima Dida Golicha who works with state agencies and mothers of young men to counter violent extremism and 2) Willie Oebah spoken word artists that focus his lens on social and political issues.
  • Munir Mazrui Lifetime achievement: was awarded to Muthoni wa Kirima, a Mau Mau fighter and leader whose prowess contributed to our freedom from colonial British rule.

The 2021 HRD Awards marks the sixth consecutive year in which grassroot based and national level activists are assessed on their impactful human rights work by an independent selection panel of eminent Kenyans. The winners of this year Awards exhibited civil courage, leadership, innovation, the demonstrable impact of the Human Rights work on the community, and creativity.

“Every community has unsung heroes and heroines who fearlessly but diligently enable the realization of universal human rights under very difficult circumstances. We are delighted that we have the opportunity to celebrate them,” said Kamau Ngugi, Executive Director of the Defenders Coalition.

Kamau Ngugi who moderated the event further observed that while we are honouring them, the working environment for activists is deteriorating and more efforts by rights defenders were required to safeguard our people.

“The good deeds of these courageous individuals are marred by persecution from the state and other private individuals who are keen to curtail the work of activists. More mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure protection against any form of targeting.”

The objective of the Human Rights Defenders Awards ceremony is to recognize, honour and appreciate the extraordinary work of Human Rights Defenders in the protection of humans in their capacity as agents of social change and transformation. An important aim of the awards is to improve the safety and protection of Human Rights Defenders as they benefit from visibility and international recognition.

“Increasingly, we are realizing the need to put in place mechanisms that tell the stories of human rights defenders as individuals and groups. Their role in the promotion of democracy and realizing universalism of human rights is critical. We will continue to explore more ways of collaborating to promote their safety.”

The Awards continue to inspire encourage and passion among young and upcoming activists to keep up the good fight, with the aim of keeping their societies safe now and in the future. As such Defenders Coalition as co-chair with the Embassy of Sweden of the Working Group for Civil Society and Missions for rights defenders will continue providing the platform for recognition and appreciation of frontline defenders.

For more information, or interview requests, please contact:

  •  Obino Nyambane, Communication Manager, Defenders Coalition, +254 700 348 206  [email protected]

 Notes to the Editors:

Further details on the 2021 Winners:


Njeri Migwi

Njeri Migwi is a woman human rights defender, a mother of nine babies, 5 humans and four cats.

She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Usikimye, a platform established to offer refuge for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.  With others, Njeri has put together safehouses that ensure that SGBV victims have a haven against the violations directed at them. She thrives in humour , is an avid RPG gamer and is an avid LOTR fan.

The idea of coming up with safe houses for victims of SGBV sparked when she was experiencing SGBV but had nowhere to call home, away from the perpetrators. She realized that many victims and survivors of SGBV lacked a place to rest while they sought to hold the perpetrators to account.

She quickly closed the gap and established Usikimye.

Najeri is a firm believer of bouncing back from the moments of  darkness associated with the SGBV.

Her love for defending and promoting other people’s rights does not end there. She has a soft spot for children. Together with others, Njeri co-founded Mama Rescue, an organization that responds to children in distress. She also supports a feeding programme , where at least 4000 mouths are fed every week. Njeri also helped establish a mobile library and arts program to give alternative learning models for kids to kids and have fun while at it.

Through her leadership, Uskimye rescued numerous women and girls, children and infants. While her passion lies in women, she has never shied from rescuing men in violent relationships. Through her leadership, they have re-homed various members of the LGBTQ community to different neighbourhoods due to an escalating corrective violations such as the gang rape silent pandemic.

Her work is guided by the awareness she has around SGBV issues. She employs community centered practices that ensure that local problems are addressed using locally available response mechanisms for reprieve.  She hopes that her advocacy work will bear fruit at the preventive level where attitudes surrounding harmful cultural practices that perpetuate SGBV are completely eliminated.

Athumani Abdulla Mohamed

Athumani is a Muslim clergy from the coastal county of Mombasa, Kenya.  He is a passionate human rights defender who also qualifies as a Trainer of Trainers. Athumani co-founded an organization dubbed Nuru Pwani, which focuses on the protection and inclusion of SOGIE community members in places of worship.

Athumani is an organizer guided by love, creativity, and passion. His motivation comes from the conviction that members of the clergy have a big role to play in shaping societies through everyday engagements. They realized that the clergy can be the conduits for creating safe spaces for all, especially for the safety of SOGIE community members. Together with others, Athumani responded to this by devoting his life to strategically engaging the clergy on SOGIE rights and by constantly engaging them to define their role in enhancing religious tolerance and community/faith narratives recognizing SOGIE rights.

This year, Athumani has worked towards increasing the safety among vulnerable GENDER & SEXUAL MINORITIES within faith realms. He has facilitated creation of safe spaces where muslim leaders and clergy convene to empower each other. They also exchange with each on the need and strategies of engaging with  congregants and community members while putting inclusion practices into place.

The interventions that Athumani  and other clergy offer to SOGIE rights are informed by regular identification of trends and risks affecting LGBTIQ people. They then converge to practically identify impactful solutions to the risks.

Athumani’s advocacy work has not stopped at the local level. He also uses his knowledge at the grassroot to come up with initiatives and policy proposals at the local, national and regional level for inclusion of LGBTIQ persons as well as to increase awareness on the responsibility of protection of LGBTIQ people in places of worship.

As a Muslim clergy who is a Trainer of Trainers on LGBTIQ inclusion, he has had experience in partnering with other faith-based institutions locally and beyond, to advance the cause of LGBTIQ people and well positioned to continue this work. He is committed to advocating for progressive change and also to the provision of platforms for key populations to advocate for their rights and safety. Due to his commitment to partnerships and collaborations, He is well suited to build upon the successes he has realized thus far as a human rights defender, and further the protection of LGBTIQ people and allies.


Halima Dida.

COUNTY: Isiolo.

Halima is currently the chairlady Isiolo women of faith under inter religious Council of Kenya. She was previously working as a civic educator with Uraia Trust and Institute for education in democracy, a champion of Prevention and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) and member of the prevention and countering violent extremism county engagement forum which is chaired by the county commissioner and county governor.

She is a mother of three children, a member of Isiolo interfaith Network where she works with other women from different religious coordinating bodies, religious leaders and the interfaith youth to ensure that her community coexists and lives peacefully in order to achieve sustainable development in Kenya. Halima is a woman who is passionate in fighting for the rights of the marginalized groups mainly women, youth and persons living with disabilities. She has continued to advocate for their rights for equal opportunities in service delivery especially in access to quality and affordable health care, education and equal job opportunities. She has always ensured to the best of her ability to fight for their inclusion in the development process and equal representation .

She started working as a volunteer in the year 2012 in the local community based organizations in her community, mainly advocating for the rights of women and girl child. She spear headed anti FGM campaign and did sensitization of the community to support girls to remain in school and complete their education. She later joined another organization working on civic education and democracy in the year 2013, where she worked closely with women, youth and religious leaders in sensitizing the community on the importance of women rights in making informed and independent decisions during the voting period. It was not common for a woman to vie for an elective position with a male opponent and win the position because their culture does not give women equal opportunities to men. Women felt that leadership was for men only, thus they would never vie for an elective position or else they would be seen to be going against their own cultures and traditions.

In the year 2014 she worked with Isiolo Peace link as a volunteer and a peace champion on a program meant to sensitize the community on the need to have accountability in service delivery thus she was selected as one of the drivers of accountability representative in her community. It was the first time of devolution and the communities had a lot of expectations in terms of service delivery, thus there was a need for the communities to engage the service providers in conflict sensitivity. The drivers of accountability program sensitized the community and created awareness on their rights and responsibility as citizens in line with service delivery.

In the year 2015 she worked with Isiolo Interfaith on a social budgeting project where they worked with the communities in identifying the gaps in service delivery in three sectors namely health, water and education. The communities together with Isiolo interfaith lobbied the members of county assemblies to ensure that the solutions to the gaps identified were captured in the budget to ensure improved service delivery.

In the year 2016 she joined the fight against violent extremism and started working with key stakeholders to come up with a strategy in countering violent extremism. The journey was not easy since there was no trust between the government and the violent extremism families. In order to win the war against terror the government and the communities had to work together. There was a lot of violation of human rights especially the V.E affected families faced a lot of harassment by the police and stigmatization from the community members. There were a lot of challenges, namely lack of political good will by the leaders, illiteracy level, poor infrastructure when trying to reach the communities in the interior. What inspired her was the determination to see her community living a dignified life by having improved service delivery and enjoying a life of peace and harmony like the other parts of the country but she knew she had to do her part to improve her community.

Halima has worked with women who had no voices and were living in fear because their children joined the terror groups. She has organized forums for these women and made their voices to be heard and their concerns addressed. The efforts she made have improved their psychological wellbeing and removed them from depression. The V.E affected families are now able to cooperate with the security agencies in sharing information which can be helpful in countering violent extremism.

The award will be a great inspiration to those who are human rights defenders in her community by realizing that good work, dedication and fighting for human rights is appreciated and recognized even if it is at the community level. She believes that will motivate and encourage other community members to stand up and advocate for human rights.

Willie Oeba.

COUNTY: Nakuru

Willie Oeba is an urban wordsmith that creates powerful poetic pieces that give voice to individuals and help them tell their most powerful stories through spoken word poetry.

Oeba is an accomplished spoken word poet who has achieved so much with his poetry since 2014. He has captivated wide-ranging audiences and peers alike with his phenomenal wordplay incorporating witty puns, deep metaphors, and brutally honest observations and perceptions of Kenyan life while still using his poetic gift to educate young people about human rights and gender mainstreaming and other life issues that we all face. His performances make us sit up with our ears pricked up, hanging onto every syllable he laces us with because of the quality of his lyrical content.

Being a graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Media Science from Moi University. He doesn’t shy away from speaking truth to power even on controversial topics like calling out corrupt leaders, addressing prejudices against women and girls. In an age where young artists are engrossed with their self-image, Oeba is deliberately enlightening and sarcastic on poetic analogies. During academic breaks, Oeba trained and practised as a radio presenter at Hero Radio, a community radio station in Nakuru, with support from FHOK and his peers (Shanki and Mayuu Sanaa). He is also a voice-over artist and social media influencer. Recently, he mobilized the youth in Nakuru to form a community-based organization dubbed Voices Guild 254 that focuses on using art as a tool for social change and protecting human rights and dignity.

Many high-profile artists and peers have hailed oeba to be a poetry king of the new school as well as constantly being considered to be in the upper echelon of the current generation of poets taking Kenya and Human rights spaces by storm. As a young artist, with the mentality impossible is a myth, he 2017 won the Blaze Safaricom music competition using Spoken Word poetry & later in 2018 was crowned The East African Spokenword Word Battle King after a six-round battle challenge. His works of art and influence on social media have graced many events under different but related thematic areas such as; Human trafficking with HAART Kenya, Human Rights and Democracy with ForumCiv, Peace and security with Midrift Hurinet, freedom of expression with Amnesty International, Good governance with Tribeless youth, Transnational organized crime with Global Initiative, Democracy with Pawa 254, Political Education with IEBC, Human Rights with Article 19, Civic education with Uraia Trust among other organizations not forgetting his works being published on numerous online websites and blogs such the Nation Media Group, The Elephant, Standard Media & The Mail & Guardian.

Willie Oeba has devoted his artistry to defending human rights and dignity & promoting  social justice. He has two studio spoken word albums namely ISM & Dear God under the thematic area of human rights & social justice. Apart from being a performance & studio artist, Oeba has mentored Other artivists in the art space under a programme he started in 2019 dubbed ” Truth Is”, which seeks to raise a Conscious artistic generation that can stand up to protect human rights and dignity.

As a youth from Nakuru, a town recording the highest number of criminal gangs & statistics on organised crime, Oeba has started a mentorship program in the informal settlement of Kivumbini that trains youths and young kids to capitalise on their artistic niche & that also brings the police and youth together to bridge on the mistrust and education both parties on human rights. Oeba has been arrested a number of times on account of stereotypes for having dreadlocks and for openly condemning bad governance.

Oeba strategically uses art as a tool for social change with a bias for Spoken word Poetry. Spoken word poetry is driven by personal experiences, facilitating a true polyphony of diverse voices and making it easier for audiences to connect with. Importantly, it provides valuable insight into emerging social realities by illuminating the experiences and happenings at a personal and societal level. Having nearly been a statistic of extrajudicial killing as he was almost shot by a police officer on January 21st 2017, for mistaken identity. This incident and the urge to amplify voices of the vulnerable in the community prompted the creation of  one of the most powerful pieces in the history of Kenyan spoken-word poetry, “Dear Mr President.” This Spoken Word piece sparked a national conversation on governance, social justice, extrajudicial killings, defending democracy, leadership and integrity & governance.

The extraordinary thing is that Willie Oeba never limits himself to conventionally doing things – he is always looking at different ways to communicate to and enrich his audience with truth and knowledge. He uses his poetry to bridge gaps, make people think deeper, ask questions and mirror the society we live in today. Through his poetry, he is a leader, a human rights defender, a champion for equality, a voice for the voiceless, a king in his own right and gifted Kenyan youth. His verses in poetry are words that need to be seen and watched to appreciate the fundamental role of creative and innovative approaches in defending and safeguarding human rights.


Muthoni  Wa Kirima

Muthoni wa Kirima is a retired top-ranking female fighter in the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, popularly known as Mau Mau Movement from the 1950s.

Muthoni is among the few Mau Mau women who became active fighters and many others were ignored in what Prof Micere Githae Mugo views as texts of “Silencing, Erasure, and Manipulation of Female Combatants”. The role of Muthoni in the freedom struggle has been analyzed along with four different levels, namely: as a Mau Mau stalwart and a spy, as non­ combatant in the forest, as a combatant, and a dominant force in the war for liberation.

Muthoni was born in 1930 at Nairutia along Nyeri- Nyahururu road as  Muthoni Waihuini. She was named after her maternal grandmother, Waihuini. Her father was John Kirima Nguya while her mother was Margaret Wanjira Kirima. Muthoni had eleven siblings, most of whom are now dead. Muthoni grew up in a polygamous family.

Muthoni was a victim and witness in her early childhood to the many forms of violence meted out to Africans. These experiences created in her the resolve to fight for personal freedom and independence for her country. She is quoted saying: “I decided early that I would rather die than live my life under the white man. They would not let us till large pieces of land to grow extra food to sell yet we were in our own country.”

Muthoni was among a group of women who broke the patriarchal rules that barred women from fighting alongside their male counterparts. The narrative on women and the combat role in the war is presented differently by male and female veterans. When the question about women’s role in combat was put to the veterans, one woman veteran responded: “There was one woman called Muthoni, I was with her. She feared nothing. She used to go to war with men because she did not fear. She was a dangerous woman; even men feared her.” Many male veterans utterly dismissed women’s role in combat. There were men who could not accept women as their equal in the battlefield. This was especially so at the initial stages of the war. With time however,  some men came to appreciate the role played by the women in combat

The outbreak of the Mau Mau war in 1952 gave women an opportunity to join the world of warfare. For the first time in the history of the Agikuyu, women fought side by side with their menfolk. They went to the forest for similar reasons as men, fought for land and freedom as well as ran away from constant harassment by home guards. Women fought alongside men. This was a substantial deviation from the traditional Agikuyu war practices. The women fighting in the Mau Mau Movement had a mammoth task because, besides fighting, they continued with supportive roles such as cooking. Over time, they asserted themselves in the battle as well. They participated in both defensive and offensive operations

After the war ended in 1956 Muthoni and other Mau Mau fighters had a very hard time getting back into society. As the Mau Mau group was still seen as a radical organization and after the war, they were put in detention camps and physically assaulted as others tried to create their new life. Muthoni was one of those who tried to create a new life, but she was struggling. She and her husband had no money or capital and although they were part of the people who fought for independence, they did not get any of the benefits of the new government. People forgot and didn’t care about them, so they had to struggle begging for food and sleeping on the streets.

In 1990, she served as a nominated councillor in Nyeri County Council.

In 1998, President Daniel Arap Moi awarded her a medal for distinguished service, and in 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded her the Head of State Commendation.

Currently, Muthoni wa Kirima lives in a Nyeri suburb.

“Kenya is my only child,” she told the Daily Nation in an interview in 2012, referencing a miscarriage during her time in the forest which left her unable to conceive. To date, Muthoni still has hair in the long dreadlocks that she had grown while she was hiding from the colonial British masters. She says that she will not cut her hair until she sees the benefit of independence.

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