Ujamaa began its work in January 2001 but got its official registration in September of the same year. The genesis of Ujamaa Center lay in the restlessness borne out of the moment of need and opportunity in Kenya that needed an organized response as the ballast of cooperation activity continued to fall from precipice to precipice. Kenya has and continues to undergo great change in perspective. For over 40 years the Coast of Kenya has been a contested region politically and economically; it is a region where the struggle between the exploiters and exploited shows its ugliest face as outsiders continue to dominate the economy. This is made more complex by the fact that Kenya continues to be a country in which the relationship between the state and the citizens is sometimes one of complimentarity or competition, of mutual help or mutual hindrance and of divergence or convergence.
Over the past eight years, Ujamaa Center, has worked with peoples and communities in the coast to enhance popular participation in socio-economic and social justice processes; community based decision-making and governance; and efficient and sustainable use of natural resources. The Ujamaa Philosophy of the founding president of Tanzania substantially inspires Ujamaa’s work and essentially the philosophy is primarily about building social capital as opposed to capital accumulation. Ujamaa Center therefore responds directly to the continuing exploitation and exclusion of the poor. The Center examines the inefficient and unsustainable exploitation of assets that should properly be owned and controlled by indigenous peoples and addresses both the symptoms and the root causes. In addressing the root causes Ujamaa has developed over the years an analysis of the problem and crafted a theory of change with which to confront the problem. The prescriptions by the Center weave the rights framework beyond civil rights. The emphasis of linking issues of social justice, peace and security with community based economic empowerment is one that has afforded Ujamaa Center critical acclaim from fellow NGOs and communities
Kenyans have lost faith in mainstream state driven processes of development and are increasingly becoming more and more critical of the other centers of civic mobilisation. Whether this trend is driven by the lack of a specific character of the civil society, government or the private sector or lack of known standards and priorities to which the leadership of these three pillars of society oblige and comply with is not useful scholarship. What is useful and true is that the characters of the dominant mainstream ideologies are deceptive and can only lead to exploitation. Ujamaa Center was thus founded as an experiment in spirituality and volunteerism, an experiment in constructing alternative systems to these mainstream ideologies. The Center is registered in Kenya as a not for profit, non-governmental organization under the NGOs Act.
Too often community development is seen purely to be about programs, five-year plans, sets of activities, which can be quantified and reported; school buildings, boreholes, food for relief etc. Village level workers therefore often find themselves under pressure to achieve certain sets of goals within given time periods which forces them to employ less democratic methods to speed up programs. Ujamaa takes a different approach; for Ujamaa community development is a crusade, a cause to which one must be deeply committed; while it is not neutral, community development carries with it an emotional charge; it is dedicated to progress as a philosophy not science. Progress must be seen with reference to certain values and goals within a given political and social system. Community development is thus a movement institutionalized through organizational structure and accepted procedure. Participation is active and driven by the community almost spontaneously. In the areas where Ujamaa has worked many agree that it is time to take on this understanding.