On Tuesday, four members of our research team – Lotte Hughes, Steve Ouma Akoth, Gordon Omenya and myself – held our first seminar at the BIEA in Nairobi. The presentation and Q&A was to introduce the katiba (constitution) and cultural rights project.
This was part of a great BIEA initiative to ask researchers to present work at different stages of their projects. It is slightly different to the usual formula. Normally an academic paper is given towards the end of a project, when results have been obtained, analysis intensively worked on and conclusions (broadly) reached. But it’s also incredibly helpful to talk about ideas and questions earlier on in the process, while research directions are taking shape.
Our seminar was very much in this vein. Lotte Hughes began with an overview of the project and the research questions. Gordon Omenya spoke about media monitoring (and the challenges of capturing news from smaller and vernacular publications). Steve Ouma Akoth gave some initial reflections from his fieldwork in Siaya District (he had returned to Nairobi two days before the seminar). I spoke about my plans for a scoping trip in Laikipia and Northern Kenya (beginning on Saturday).
I wasn’t able to take photographs of the panel (as I was taking part in it) but here is one BIEA Director Joost Fontein posted on Twitter.
We were lucky enough to have an engaged and informed audience. The questions lasted for an hour – as long as the presentations themselves. Many Nairobi based academics and heritage professionals generously shared their insights and personal opinions on the impact of provisions on culture in the new constitution. I found this conversation incredibly useful and I will certainly be thinking about it as I begin my fieldwork this weekend.
Our session hugely benefitted from the insights and perspectives of constitutional lawyers. We were especially thrilled to have Yash Pal Ghai (former head of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission) and Jill Cotrell Ghai (Professor of Law) in the audience (our project has an affiliation to the Katiba Institute). As Jill Ghai commented, there is great potential for a productive interdisciplinary conversation between legal practitioners (who have worked on development of constitutions) and social scientists who are interested in the impact of these documents on society and the struggles over implementation. We hope to continue this discussion (and others) over the next three years.
Here is a photograph of the audience enjoying some post-seminar tea and a picture of the BIEA office building in Kileleshwa. Thanks to all who came. Remember to check our Twitter feed and this website for news of other events.