BBI strengthens culture as a pillar of an inclusive Kenya

In Summary

•During the BBI validation meetings, they cited programs promoting cultural exchange and integration in addressing ethnic antagonism and competition, the principal catalyst for perennial political violence and instability.

•It is therefore encouraging to note that BBI recognizes the valuable role of culture and cultural leaders in fostering inclusivity and good governance.

ODM leader Raila Odinga appends his signature in support of the bill to implement the BBI at KICC, Wednesday November 25, 2020.
ODM leader Raila Odinga appends his signature in support of the bill to implement the BBI at KICC, Wednesday November 25, 2020.
Image: COURTESY

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is premised on the big idea that an inclusive society is absolutely essential to a stable, peaceful, united and prosperous Kenya.  

An inclusive society or nation is one that respects, protects and empowers all its citizens regardless of their racial, ethnic, gender, religious, social, cultural, political or economic status. Inclusivity denotes a deliberate policy of ensuring people or groups that would otherwise be excluded or marginalized are involved in governance.    

As a way of achieving inclusivity, BBI seeks to end the predictable five-year cycle of electoral violence and ethnic antagonism that has plagued Kenya for decades, by creating a nation where every individual and community feel they belong.   

In building an inclusive Kenya, however, we must first accept we are a multi-ethnic and therefore multi-cultural State. Kenya is a diverse nation comprising 43 plus ethnic groups. There are as many cultures as there are ethnic groups.  

This ethnic and cultural diversity should drive our quest to be an inclusive nation with culture as a unifying factor and platform for transforming leadership and governance by involving elders and other influential cultural leaders.  

Anthropologists tell us that  culture is the total way of life of a society. It comprises the beliefs, attitudes and values of a people or community. Article 11 of our Constitution expressly recognizes culture as the foundation of the Nation and the cumulative civilization of the Kenyan people.

The Preamble also captures the pride of the Kenyan people in their ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and determination to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign Nation. Inclusiveness (the state of being an inclusive society) is one of the national values and principles of governance under Article 10.

The desire by Kenyans to see their cultural heritage entrenched in the governance architecture is captured in the final BBI Report. Notably, Kenyans expressed concern about failure to harmonize our traditional cultural values and systems with modern laws and policies.

During the BBI validation meetings, they cited programs promoting cultural exchange and integration in addressing ethnic antagonism and competition, the principal catalyst for perennial political violence and instability.

It is therefore encouraging to note that BBI recognizes the valuable role of culture and cultural leaders in fostering inclusivity and good governance. In traditional African society, leadership was entrusted to elders as the custodians of the community’s culture, wisdom, history and knowledge. Today, cultural elders exercise an influential leadership and guidance role in many communities.

In this regard, BBI seeks to strengthen the role of elders and cultural leaders in the following areas.

One, the document proposes the integration of local dispute resolution mechanisms into formal mediation processes recognized by law including training and certification of elders in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is significant given the role of elders in resolving community disputes over land and other communal issues since time immemorial.

Traditional ADR will help ease the case burden on our judicial system in a manner that respects and upholds our cultural traditions but is within the law.

Two, BBI calls for the active involvement of elders and cultural leaders in inculcation of moral and service ethos among children and youth. This will not only ensure good upbringing but also entrench a new national ethos from a young age. Village elders will be empowered to deal with issues like juvenile delinquency, a growing problem linked to erosion of socio-cultural values at family and community levels.  

Three, in an attempt to link culture to existing governance structures, BBI proposes to have counties work closely with Councils of Elders to formalize rites of passage for both boys and girls, crucial to tackling retrogressive cultural practices like FGM, while promoting alternative rites of passage that are not in conflict with the law.

In this cultural leadership role, elders will be expected to include national values and citizen responsibility as part of the initiation process.

Four, to address communal and inter-community conflict and violence, elders will actively promote cohesion and facilitate dialogue. Cultural leaders will be expected to steer positive inter-ethnic and community relations through trade and cultural exchanges.

With many counties now forming regional economic blocs, the devolved governments will have to incorporate cultural leaders to protect community interests.

The above proposals will be implemented through policy, administrative and legal measures including constitutional amendments. Already, the newly published Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 has captured some of the cultural aspects.

For instance, Section 18A provides that every citizen has a responsibility to cultivate national unity on the basis of respecting Kenya’s ethnic, intellectual, economic and cultural diversity. Citizens’ responsibilities also include respect for parents and elders, a fundamental culture value.  

In a nutshell, the cultural dimension as captured in the BBI recommendations will ensure that an inclusive society and nation emerges out of the rich tapestry of our cultural heritage.

To paraphrase the words of former US president Jimmy Carter in illustrating why Kenyans should support the BBI process: “(Kenya has) become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different beliefs.”  

The present generation has a duty to preserve this national heritage for posterity and equally important, bequeathing future generations an inclusive and peaceful nation.

Mr. Murumba is the Managing Director, Impulso Kenya Limited ([email protected] )