The Constitution of Kenya 2010 recognizes culture as the foundation of the Nation and as the cumulative civilization of the Kenyan people and nation. Article 11 affirms the value of culture and cultural heritage in the architecture of governance.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social norms and material traits of racial, religious and social groups” and as “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, beliefs and behavior which depends on the ability to learning and transmission of knowledge. to future generations.
This intergenerational aspect of culture is what gives people their unique identity and provides a basis for regulating human relationships through accepted norms, habits and practices.
Culture distinguishes one human society from others. Kenya has 43 ethnic communities who practice different cultures. The reality is that we are a nation of diverse ethnicities and cultures.
Article 11 of the Constitution recognizes this cultural diversity. The State has the duty to promote all forms of cultural expression through literature, the arts, traditional festivals and other cultural heritages.
But is there anything like a Kenyan national culture? The truth is, there are as many cultures as there are ethnicities in Kenya. On a personal level, most Kenyans tend to identify with the cultures of their ethnic communities. This ethnic affiliation, and in the culture of extension, plays an influential role in shaping their political choices.
Perhaps this explains our ethnic political struggles at national and local levels. It is not a phenomenon exclusive to Kenya. As Professor Christopher Coker of the London School of Economics argues, culture has become an important factor in modern politics.
He cites the identity politics sweeping through many countries as an example of how culture shapes the politics of a nation. Political culture, that is, the beliefs, opinions and emotions of citizens towards their system of governance, is strongly influenced by their culture (s).
In Kenyan political culture, this is manifested in the way voters elect leaders on the basis of ethnic or tribal considerations. This tends to undermine the quest for a nation-state, that is, a state made up of people with a common identity.
A nation state is based on two fundamental principles. First, the principle of state sovereignty which recognizes the right of states to govern their territories without outside interference. Second, the principle of national sovereignty which recognizes the right of communities existing in a nation to govern themselves.
Kenya is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. Although many Kenyans feel a sense of belonging to a nation called Kenya, they still retain a strong personal attachment to their ethnic and cultural identities.
These multiple identities are at the heart of our highly ethnicized political environment and to a large extent fuel the ethnic divisions upon which our dysfunctional political culture thrives.
Transforming this culture requires strengthening existing cultural institutions in the context of article 11 of the Constitution in order to build an authentic Kenyan nation-state anchored on cultural foundations.
Three things must happen. First, we must accept that there is nothing wrong with embracing our cultural or ethnic identities. Culture should be used to highlight the unique contribution of each community to national development and our cultural heritage as a force for social progress.
It also means amplifying the positive elements of our rich cultural heritage, for example, by proposing policies to support the integration of our traditional knowledge systems into the formal economy. This requires the protection of traditional intellectual property rights.
Second, we must promote cultural values such as respect, tolerance, love, peace as building blocks of national cohesion and as a path to a less polarized political culture, devoid of ethnic stereotypes, suspicion and hatred, which perpetually fuels animosity and violence between our communities.
Third, rethink our approach to leadership and governance by encouraging cultural institutions like the elders to build interethnic and intercultural bridges with a view to promoting a common national cultural identity necessary for building a true Kenyan nation state.
Mr. Choto is a legal and political analyst. Email: [email protected]