Let’s redefine, protect Kenyan culture, heritage

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 00:00 |
National Museums of Kenya. Photo/Courtesy

Sandra Ochola

Awards, recognitions and prestigious appointments often have a positive impact on the persona and status of those to that they are bestowed on.

At a personal level, they characterise hard work and dedication of the individual to particular goals and causes.

When undertaken on a wider scale, they recognise the unique qualities that a group, community or country posses for particular tasks. 

Last year, the UN community endorsed President Uhuru Kenyatta as the Global Champion for the Young Peoples’ Agenda.

His role as a champion has been to engender the youth’s access to job and education activities across the globe. 

This month, President Uhuru has been invited to be the AU culture and the arts champion, a role he has graciously accepted from Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. 

It is not only the pomp and colour of the invitation that makes it important for us.

His selection provides an opportunity for the country to re-look its commitments to the protection and promotion of our arts and cultural diversity. 

Article 11 of the Constitution recognises culture as the foundation of our nation and as the cumulative civilisation of the Kenyan people.

It requires the State to, among other things,  promote all forms of national and cultural expression through literature, the arts, traditional celebrations, science, communication, information, mass media, publications, libraries and other cultural heritage.

Parliament is also expected to enact legislation to ensure communities receive compensation or royalties for the use of their cultures and cultural heritage.

 Articles 33 and 44 of the Constitution bolster the rights to language, culture and artistic expression. 

At the regional level, the African Union has ratified varied instruments for the promotion of arts and culture in the continent.

In particular, the Cultural Charter for Africa (1976) was replaced by the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance in (2006).

In the latter instrument, African states recognise that, “despite cultural domination, which during the slave trade and the colonial era, led to the depersonalisation of part of the African peoples, falsified their history, systemically disparaged and combated African values, and tried to replace progressively and officially, their languages with that of the coloniser, the African people were able to find in African culture, the necessary strength for resistance and liberation of the continent.”

The role of culture within a society cannot be understated. It represents our entire achievement and provides a foundation for our wellbeing and interactions.

The 2016 periodic report by UNESCO elucidates some of the policy contexts and measures that we have undertaken for the protection and promotion of the diversity in our cultural expressions. 

Kenya has a national culture and heritage policy, whose objectives are to outline the role of culture in development and provide a means of a strong and vibrant national identity.

It also seeks to promote the national values and principles as outlined in the Constitution and provides a favourable environment for the promotion of culture and the creative environment.

The other policy instruments that exhort the role of arts and culture within our community include the education policy, information and communication policy, foreign affairs cultural diplomacy policy and the trade policy on small and micro-enterprises. 

Our institutional frameworks including the Sports, Culture and Heritage ministry, have also been given the mandate to harness and develop Kenya’s cultural heritage.

Ongoing collaborations between the government, private sector and the civil society are also contributing to the realisation of our cultural ideals. 

Much more needs to be done, however, if we are to fully embrace our cultural individualities. As is, the question of what defines African culture currently has varied answers.

Tribalism is eroding most of the positives of our cultural diversity even as the influx of foreign values and principles continues to hamper our cultural expressions. 

We are also shunning our locally produced goods in favour of imports while inadequate copyright laws prevent many creatives from reaching their full potential. 

As the President takes up his new position, it behooves us to work together towards rebranding our cultural space.

This is especially important for the arts sector in which our younger generations can get the requisite support and guidance on how to embrace and promote their cultural identities. —The writer is Advocate of the High Court

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