NATIONHOOD

BWIRE: Lessons from Sweden: Promote the ‘small things’ and its all in our culture

We can reconfigure ourselves by creating a holistic sense of a being Kenyan through cultural citizenship

In Summary

• Citizenship is usually seen as a product of modern nation-states, or of other political entities that possess institutional infrastructures.

• Citizenship defines the relationship between that system and its members.

Vera Bwire (second right) with her don colleagues in Kalmar City, Sweden, where they were hosted by Linnaeus University
Vera Bwire (second right) with her don colleagues in Kalmar City, Sweden, where they were hosted by Linnaeus University
Image: VERA BWIRE

A fortnight ago, I was in Sweden in pursuits of academic and research nature.

It had been a while since I travelled out of the country and when the opportunity arose, kwani!

I had to jump on it to fulfil my curiosity on why the Swedes decided to settle in an area mostly hit by nasty winters, prolonged cold seasons, widely known to bring about levels of low moods in human beings, yet ranked very highly in the world happiness index.

With me were a team of seasoned dons, although in significantly different fields from mine. As an ambitious Kenyan, I requested to join them privately, as a mentee in academia.

I was curious to use Sweden as a kind of sample study on how Kenyans can improve as citizens, through cultural awareness and understanding, and ultimately cultural citizenship, to achieve an appreciable level of happiness, through the small things and stand out further as an admirable nation in Africa.

Citizenship is usually seen as a product of modern nation-states, or of other political entities that possess institutional infrastructures. Citizenship defines the relationship between that system and its members.

My interest, though broadly in communications, was now in the concept of cultural citizenship, and the fact that it was initially created in the absence of a formal state.

Our forefathers and freedom fighters had systems of communication based on their own understandings of their various beliefs, values, norms and practices.

They were not speaking big concepts then: They were using what was readily available to them to earn a living, communicate, be happy, and they lived!

Our ancestors also practiced the modern intercultural, multicultural and transcultural forms of communication, especially in trade, which later on led to migration and further to intermarriage. So how can we use this understanding of cultural citizenship to contribute to our national identity as citizens? How do we reconfigure ourselves?

Much has been done by our wide wealth of expertise in Kenya the fields through the relevant ministries and organisations, a lot of resources have been poured, a lot of research papers are implemented, while some remain tabled. Yet we are still seeking a spirit of nationhood to be able to excel further in the global playing field.

Vera Bwire with her don colleagues in Kalmar City, Sweden, where they were hosted by Linnaeus University
Vera Bwire with her don colleagues in Kalmar City, Sweden, where they were hosted by Linnaeus University

In Sweden, knowledge of their language, Svenska, is key to any foreigner’s survival, the spirit of nationhood appears first in the fact that most products and services in most shops are in Swedish language. Also, most of the products are made in Sweden, by them for them. How nice?

In public places, trains, buses, planes and their respective stations, Swedish is the language initially used then translated to English.

Besides their depictions of culture in dressing, work, time, style, food and generosity, one thing I picked that they loved and spoke about was Fika time.

It’s a concept and an attitude to make time for a break, often enjoyed with coffee and a cinnamon bun kanelbulle. I was lucky enough to enjoy lots of it as I was there on Cinnamon bun day, a day dedicated to celebrate this tasty treat.

Too bad I was there for a very short time to get to experience other forms of culture. However, in terms of dressing, I borrowed the thick soled boots and jeans style,

We can, therefore, reconfigure ourselves by creating a holistic sense of a being Kenyan through cultural citizenship by celebrating the Made in Kenya concept through the small things. We have a lot to be proud of, our food, sports, music and general welcoming spirit.

With some impressive lessons from Sweden, this reconfiguration involves a more conscious creative participation in culture and nationhood at home.

It also needs participation of the same at community facilities and at commercial venues, with the media publicizing this participation.

There is further need to create capacities through social networks, institutional literacy as well as cross cultural literacy and most importantly, creating a sense of belonging through ethnic belonging, local belonging, national belonging, cosmopolitan belonging and transcultural belonging and civic and political activism.

We should strive to live by the words of our national anthem, “Let all with one accord in common bond united, Build this our nation together, And the glory of Kenya, The fruit of our labor Fill every heart with thanksgiving.”

Since happiness might be in the small things, basi, we can go ahead and make a Nyama choma day!

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