About

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 was based at The Open University and began in September 2014. It has now ended (September 2017).

Since all team members have now left the Open University, we are unable to update the site. Enquiries and comments can be sent to former project leader Lotte Hughes: lotteh2017@gmail.com. Do look out for our main written output – a Special Issue of the journal African Studies, in June 2018 (77.2), on cultural rights and constitutional change.

The research was the first 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.

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 debated by a wide range of stakeholders. We produced information for policy makers, heritage managers and stakeholders (including citizens), NGOs and lawyers. We hope 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