Human Rights Activism After the Movement Ends: Global Lessons From Kenya's Unfinished “Revolution”

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Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs


Social Science and Global Studies


Some 30 years after their dangerous human rights activism in Kenya that challenged an authoritarian regime and won multiparty democracy, more than half the leading survivors were still politically active. Three were governors, one was the Supreme Court Chief Justice, five were human rights activists; others were attorneys or otherwise politically engaged. This study provides fresh insights on the theory of cycles of social movements and offers global implications for movements in other countries. The decline of social movements “remains relatively understudied from an empirical standpoint.” The study builds on the cycle theories of Tarrow, considered the “leading theoretician of protest cycles.” It finds that (1) long after a protest movement has ended, some activists may continue individual activism in line with the goals of the movement or a subset of goals; (2) partial victories or regime concessions tend to weaken cohesiveness of a movement and make subsequent victories harder; (3) regime change, although more dangerous, in some ways is easier than regime reform. The findings are based on interviews conducted by the author, mostly in Nairobi, with the leading veteran activists and others between 2019 and 2021, plus archival reviews.

Publication Title

Journal of Human Rights

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