Devolution: implications for heritage management and national fragmentation

Chair Steve Akoth with Jill Ghai, Patrick Onyango and David Mbuthia

Chair Steve Akoth with Jill Ghai, Patrick Onyango and David Mbuthia

On the 14th of April we held a one day workshop entitled Cultural Rights in Critical Perspective: a Socio-cultural Conundrum at the British Institute in East Africa (BIEA), Nairobi. We invited a wide range of stakeholders and had approximately 40 attendees. The day was divided into three different discussion panels on human rights, land rights and devolution. This panel was chaired by Steve Akoth and included Patrick Onyango, Jill Ghai and David Mbuthia. The panellists all spoke briefly to allow as much time as possible for discussion; we hope to continue those discussions here. Please read the panel summary below and feel free to comment    whether you attended the workshop or not.

Devolution: implications for heritage management and national fragmentation

This panel was made up of an anthropologist, a political scientist, a lawyer and a heritage practitioner. They engaged with issues around the implementation of devolution, and Kenyans’ participation (or lack of participation) in the process. The split between people’s social and legal lives soon became evident. The workshop participants discussed the ahistorical nature of contemporary debates on devolution and heritage in Kenya. The conversation frequently returned to the question of how devolution is connected to nation-building, reconciliation and the rebirth of optimistic citizenship that characterised Kenya at independence. Devolution is an alternative model of state building, but is it necessarily incompatible with nation building?

With opposition calls for a referendum now gaining momentum, the kind of subjectivity and politics of belonging (and exclusion) evident in the practices of the new constitution cannot be ignored. Yet, it is in this very notion of belonging that the unfinished business of how to define and own heritage must be re-engaged. This paves the way for critical questions such as: What should the role of the National Museums of Kenya be in managing county museums? How can authorities create a balance between respecting local meanings of heritage sites as well as their universal meanings, especially in the case of World Heritage Sites? How does tangible heritage such as ‘Turkana Boy’, which arguably belongs to humanity rather than to a single community, remain local, national and global? Who sets the standards of that which is heritage?

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