Introducing the County Study

Banner at the Marsabit-Lake Turkana Cultural Festival, May 2015.  Image Credit: Zoe Cormack

During this, the final year of our project we have decided to do an additional desk study which we plan to release as a briefing report in May.  The project is being done jointly by myself Mark Lamont and project consultant, Gordon Omenya.

The study is called “County Governance and the Uses of Culture” and is a survey of the ways in which culture is being mobilised as a way of organising knowledge, resources, people, conflicts, markets, and  landscapes into new forms of governance and management under the devolved system of County Governments. Put more simply we are examining how County Governments form policy on cultural matters, looking at any draft legislation coming out of it, and seeing what cultural organizations, such as Councils of Elders, National Museums Kenya, the Ministry of Education, are doing in response to these developments.  For example, we are looking at cultural festivals (particularly Turkana and Lamu), how NMK buildings are being used, the funding and construction of new cultural centres, school and church synod performances and competitions, Councils of Elders and alternative dispute managements.

We are also looking at the marginalization of political or cultural groups within these new assemblages of power. Crucially, is devolution allowing a shake-up of the old political order, and permitting new social relations and rights processes to emerge?

Some interesting themes have already begun to emerge: one of them is a transnational identification (as in the case of the Nile Valley Cultural Festival, and Maulidi at Lamu – for the Swahili ecumene) and the proliferation of claims to indigeneity.   However what interests me most, are the new forms of cultural activism taking place throughout the country focused on culture, health, and the environment (here, we plan to focus on Friends of Lake Turkana and the Save Lamu Coalition). New movers and shakers, many of them with advanced degrees and great depth of professional experience, are taking on innovative and hybrid roles as go-betweens, mediators of County Government assemblies, on the one hand, with globalised non-governmental or tertiary sector organisations on the other. The language of cultural and community rights, environmental justice, and new social methodologies for conflict resolution are moving into the heart of discussions about the uses of culture. It is exciting stuff to be observing, with implications for the reallocation of political alliances and power within County Governments themselves and we look forward to sharing more of our findings with you as we make progress with the study.

Dance groups at the Marsabit-Lake Turkana Cultural Festival, May 2015.  From Left to Right, Rendille, El Molo and Dassanach.  Image Credit: Zoe Cormack

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