Grassroots organising in Kenya and Uganda

Exploring the complex relationships in the chain of protection

Hosted by LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development

Researcher: Dr Eliza Ngutuku 

Their relationship with the community is complex: they are simultaneously seen as part of the community but also as employees of the government.

Dr Eliza Ngutuku


The research focuses on the dynamics of organising by grassroots actors who are engaged in protection in Kenya (violence against children) and Uganda (sexual and gender-based violence). In the contexts of weak state support, grassroots and community-based actors as forms of public authority are important constituencies in the provision of services in the areas of protection against violence. Therefore, they collaborate with the state and other non-state actors in protection. They do, however, face challenges in terms of their capacity, and there are enduring power differentials between these actors and the state that have not received adequate attention in research.

When grassroots organisers collaborate with others in the chain of protection, there are fears that they will become co-opted into the agendas of these larger actors, or indeed will be forced to shoehorn their activities to fit into the workings of the NGOs and the state.


  • The research aims to explore the lived experience of grassroots actors and their complex relationships with state and other non-state actors including the NGOs, in the chain of protection.
  • It will explore how these actors come to define their solidarities, and how they engage the unequal power relations in complex ways.
  • The research will aim to show how such collaboration and interactions influence their grassroots orientation and their roles in protection.



  • To attain perspectives on the lived experience of grassroots actors, the research used ethnographic methods. These methods include repeat focus group discussions, observations, participant diaries/journals of day-to-day interactions, repeat Interviews and key informant interviews.

Findings from Kenya

  • Actors were motivated by the need to address the shared suffering of children in their community.
  • To some  working on issues of protection confers a symbolic capital since they are seen as part of social change in their community.
  • Grassroots actors valorise the strength of their place-based, endogenous strategies, like putting potential abusers under watch, hanging out in drinking places and other indigenous violence alert systems as assets that give them more legitimacy than the NGOs or the state.
  • Whilst embedded in the community, their relationship with the community is complex and they are simultaneously seen as part of the community but also as employees of the government and the NGOs or slip in and out of this identity at different moments.
  • These actors are not just cogs in the work of NGOs or the state as some scholars have noted, but the relationship is complex. They engage, resist and/ or conform to practices of the state and non-state actors and engage other patronizing relations in their work.
  •  As they interact with the state and the NGOs, the research reveals that they are not disinterested. They also draw on the same patronage relations used by the state like giving bribes to state officials to receive services,  bribing officials to lock out other smaller actors and similar exclusionary tactics.
  • They also use other methods like registering more organizations to target funds and therefore fragmenting and duplicating services on protection.
  • Artifacts like work ‘uniforms’, Government issued work identity cards are used as forms of symbolic power in their work
  • Such messy agency reveals a need for democratic and transformative relations between these actors, the state and other NGOs and their interactions with the community. It also reveals how the context of their work and interactions with other actors sometimes can influence their grassroots orientation and their roles in protection, sometimes in negative ways. 





Dr Eliza Ngutuku | Lead researcher

Dr Ngutuku is a CPAID researcher at the LSE Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa with a PhD in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her multidisciplinary work investigates children and young people’s lived experience of poverty, vulnerability, citizenship claims and sexual and reproductive health.

Eliza is a scholar-activist with over 20 years of experience in research and practices on grassroots organising around child protection, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa. She is an associate in the Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at the Makerere University School of Public Health in Kampala and its satellite centre at Lira University, Northern Uganda.


Jacqueline Mutua200

Dr Jacqueline Mutua | Co-researcher

Dr Jacqueline Mutua is a Research Associate at Nascent Research and Development Organization and Lecturer and Program Leader for the Master of Leadership Studies at International Leadership University, Kenya. She has a PhD in Leadership (Public Governance) from the International Leadership University, Kenya. She has done research in the area of volunteerism and child protection.

Thumbnail image: © Photo by gordontour from Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)