By NJUHI CHEGE

Trouble has struck again! Front page images of blood hungry, machete wielding youth in Tana Delta were splashed all over newspapers, blogs and Facebook. This is all too familiar; Pokomo versus Orma, Kikuyu versus Luo, Borana versus Gabra, described as “rival groups” especially by international media.

As we observe the International Day of Peace today, I cannot over emphasise the need to be conscious of the fact that it is not the differences in culture that contribute to these conflicts as is commonly cited.

Rather, it is when these differences are attached to access to political and economic power that we find ourselves in this quagmire.

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I don’t think it is naive to imagine that we can learn to co-exist as Kenyans; it is however naive to accept that we can survive in this country till year 2030 and beyond if we do not.

How does culture contribute to peacebuilding in Kenya?

John Paul Lederach in his book Moral Imagination explicates how transcending violence can be forged by our capacity to generate, mobilise and build moral imagination. Therefore, can we imagine a Kenya where all Kenyans have access to resources regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex and sexuality? Where we have our needs met by dependable leaders, have access to quality and affordable education, healthcare, access to decent living standards and have our dignity upheld? Can you imagine what it would feel like; or are we too afraid to envisage and construct new realities?

That is the power of Art and Culture. It offers the capacity for new patterns of thought. It embraces the artistic expression of all and secures a profound source of learning from and dialoging with each other, thus reinforcing its importance as a peacebuilding tool.

It contests the unproductive and extremely rigid way that we describe policies, structures and relationships between communities.

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The Festival for African Fashion and Arts (FAFA) is one such space where talented Kenyans have come together to celebrate our creativity and portray Africa as a whole in a more positive light.

Empowerment

FAFA was set up in 2008 in response to the Post Election Violence and continues to organize events as a call for peace on the African Continent. It returns to Nairobi for its Fourth Edition on November 17 at the Ngong Race Course. FAFA explores and bridges cultures through fashion, art and music. It also invests in the economic empowerment of the youth through training workshops, sourcing new markets for their products and services whilst showcasing Kenyan creative innovation.

Kenya, as is the case for all other nations, experiences poverty, violence, unemployment but there is more to Kenya than direct and structural violence. Portraying Kenya as a place of possibilities rather than bloodshed affirms our innovation, skills, talent, and paints more diverse and rich perceptions of African realities.

Throughout my varied experiences in Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, China or the US, I became aware of the importance of perceptions and how they affect action. As the ‘unofficial’ ambassador of Kenya in the countries that I have visited, they expected a very different specimen other than what they were looking at.

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Without blowing my own horn; being educated, well traveled and self sufficient, these were not words some people were accustomed to using whilst describing a Kenyan woman. So is the case at the international level; Africa is much more than aid, ethnic violence, corruption, poverty, and so on.

It is not until we, as Kenyans, can consistently assert our narratives as innovators, creators, entrepreneurs, pioneers and much more, while revising our realities can we demand the respect as an equal partner in the international arena.

We need narratives that will transcend our limited knowledge of the possible and that can transform relationships with ourselves and others.

There are numerous efforts to inspire multicultural understanding and nation building among Kenyans today.

And through collaboration and partnership of civil society, well meaning international organizations, the government and the business sector and us, as Kenyan shareholders, can we realize the changes that we imagine.

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Peacebuilding is a long term labour of love, and a transformed Kenya can only be achieved if applied holistically, consistently and creatively.

The writer is CEO of Riri Jewellery which promotes Art based Peacebuilding through jewellery making.

culture peace