This three-year research project – a collaboration between British, Kenyan and other scholars – has looked at the different ways in which Kenyans are exercising new constitutional rights to culture. It is based at The Open University and began in September 2014. It is now drawing to a close.

It was the first study of its kind. We aimed to document and analyse the impact of the new constitution’s cultural rights provisions on Kenyan society, and explored how cultural rights claims are affecting social cohesion and peace building. We were also interested in examining how devolution to new county governments is affecting cultural heritage management at local level, which included initiatives like museums, cultural centres and cultural festivals.

As soon as the constitution was passed, following a national referendum in August 2010, different groups of citizens – especially indigenous and minority communities – began saying they planned to claim their cultural rights. Culture can be very broadly defined, but (according to the constitution, or katiba in Kiswahili) cultural rights include the right of communities to receive compensation for the ‘use of their cultures’; the state’s obligation to promote cultural expression and safeguard people’s intellectual property rights; special protection for endangered languages; and a host of other things. Most importantly, though, the katiba outlaws harmful cultural practices.

While positive in many respects, since culture can be a tool for development and peace building, there is a danger of cultural rights clashing with human rights. This is already happening, as furious public debates explode around such issues as FGM and polygamy,  practised in the name of ‘cultural tradition’.

At events we organized in Kenya and the UK, these were among the many issues that were being debated by a wide range of stakeholders. We produced information for policy makers, heritage managers and stakeholders (including ordinary citizens), NGOs and lawyers. This will have practical uses at a crucial time for Kenya, as constitutional change transforms the country.

Header image credits, left to right:

  1. Rock art at Kwitone Shelter on Mfangano Island, Lake Victoria. David Coulson TARA 2008
  2. Giriama elders at Akamba Community Peace Museum, Kyanzasu. Karega-Munene, 2010
  3. Karima Sacred Forest, Othaya. Lotte Hughes, 2008
  4. Paul Thuku Njembui in Agikuyu Community Peace Museum, Nyeri. Heather Scott, 2010
  5. Women taking part in a religious crusade at a village in Ukambani. Greg Deacon,