Kenya is a diverse country with over 40 ethnic groups, each with its own unique cultural practices, beliefs, and values.
Such a diverse population makes the country unique and exotic and should be one of the many attractions and strengths for the country. However, as history has come to show, diversity of culture and ethnicity has done more harm than good in Kenya.
Kenya rides high on negative ethnicity. As has been seen over time, ethnic interests tend to override fair political practice and even the equitable distribution of development opportunities which has ended up threatening peace and social harmony and breeding inter-ethnic conflicts and political violence.
Despite continuous efforts to foster peace, social cohesion and unity in the country, little has been achieved and we remain highly polarised along ethnic lines where even matters as important and straightforward as corruption are politicised and ethicised.
Nationhood will remain a mirage unless we change course. One of the avenues that could help nurture nationhood and promote nation building is through tapping into culture. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity emphasises on the importance of cultural dialogue and exchange in fostering peace and harmony.
Similarly, the Rabat Plan of Action, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2013, outlines a set of strategies for promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue as a means of preventing and resolving conflicts. It emphasises the importance of cultural literacy and education in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among diverse communities.
With our history of negative ethnicity and the resultant effects, Kenya can find a new path towards peace and harmony through the power of culture. With a rich diversity of ethnic groups and traditions, Kenya can use its cultural heritage to bring people together and bridge divides. From music and dance to food and fashion, culture can become a key tool for building bridges across communities.
As has been said, hatred is taught but kindness is natural. To counter ethnic hatred, we could prioritise the promotion of cultural education where we can, for instance, learn to celebrate our unique identities while also exploring our commonalities. By learning to appreciate each other's differences, it helps us to work together towards a shared future.
Cultural education is crucial in fostering national unity and addressing ethnicity by promoting a sense of shared history, values, and aspirations. Schools and other educational institutions can incorporate cultural diversity into the curriculum, teaching students about the history, traditions, and beliefs of different ethnic groups. This can promote empathy and understanding and help to break down stereotypes and prejudices.
Dialogue is also a key ingredient in helping build bridges across communities and hence there is need to engage in intercultural dialogue to promote understanding, foster unity and prevent conflict. By bringing people from different backgrounds together to share their stories and experiences, culture can help break down stereotypes and build relationships based on understanding, trust and respect.
Dialogue will also go a long way to help address ethno electoral conflict in the country. As has been observed, every elections cycle leaves Kenyans highly polarised and divided along ethnic lines and culture can be a tool to unify them during such periods. Elections, for instance, can be explained from a cultural point of view where one big family must come together to find a leader in a friendly contest. Portraying an election as a friendly contest within one big happy family can go a long way in deescalating the tension that comes with elections.
Cultural festivals and events can play a big role in this instance as they provide a forum for different ethnic groups to interact and appreciate cultural uniqueness and diversity. In addition to promoting peace and harmony, culture is also becoming a powerful economic driver. By investing in cultural infrastructure and promoting cultural tourism, Kenya is not only preserving its heritage but also creating new opportunities for economic growth and development that, if fully explored, will further foster a sense of unity and togetherness.
Tribes are just but different cultural orientations that should unite rather than divide. Of course, there is still much work to be done to address the underlying causes of ethnic tension in Kenya, but by harnessing the power of culture, the country will take an important step towards a more peaceful and prosperous future. When we celebrate our differences, we become stronger as a community. We can build bridges across our divides and create a prosperous Kenya for all.
Culture can be used to create values, attitudes, and behaviours that promote peaceful coexistence and conflict resolution. Cultural diversity in Kenya has the potential to instill the values of respect, tolerance, and reconciliation.
These values have been passed down through generations and have been incorporated into various cultural practices and beliefs. For instance, our national motto “Harambee” promotes a common cultural practice in Kenya, where communities come together to raise funds for social development projects such as schools and hospitals. Harambee promotes unity, cooperation, and mutual support among community members, which are key values that foster a culture of peace.
Similarly, the concept of “Ubuntu” is another traditional value that promotes peace and social harmony in Kenya and across our continent. Ubuntu means I am what I am because of who we all are which emphasises the interconnectedness of all people and the importance of empathy, kindness, and generosity. It encourages individuals to act in ways that benefit the community as a whole, which promotes social harmony and reduces conflicts.
Ethnicity can be a strength but unless and until we fashion our cultural diversity to work for a common good, ethnicity will continue to bog down our national aspirations and to threaten our very own prosperity and existence.