The Heritage Factor in the
By Sultan H. Somjee,
Consultant,Constitution of Kenya Review Commission
After almost forty years of independence to talk about promotion of
African, or for that matter Kenyan Culture, is a cliché. A cliche that
nationalist discourse used over and over again to gain popularity and
that created a class of politicians who became ultimately masters of
double discourse of theory and practice of African culture. While one side
of the double discourse valorised African culture, the other created a
culture of violence, fear and suppression of opinion. The post independence
culture contradicted and shamed what was promised as protection and
promotion of African cultural heritage in the Kenya Constitution and
subsequent development plans.
This paper acknowledges the intentions of promoting African culture as
stated so eloquently in the first Constitution of Kenya which was drafted
at the height of nationalism. We cannot match the clarity, fervour and
honesty of that period of cultural liberation and celebration. But the
loyalties pledged in the oral and written manifestoes were subverted. Forty
years later we must leam from the past and guard against further subversion
of the Constitution, be pragmatic and move ahead of what has become
rhetoric of "contribution and promotion" of the Kenyan culture in
national body politic.
I view the new Constitution in the making under Multiparty Democracy
great hope. But first I wish to recognize and salute the work of those
citizens who have been engaged in the process of working out and changing
those aspects of the political and politicised culture of Kenya that
been oppressive to the national well being. These individuals and groups
comprise ethnic people who continue to sing the song of how their
land is taken away from them and those who sing how they are reduced
becoming refugees in their own country. These groups and individuals
comprise urban-based dance and drama companies encountering changing social
values and political scenes. They belong to citizen managed cultural
organizations and institutions.
There are also individual writers and artists in this group who have
oriented themselves from 1963 onwards towards an enabling culture that gave
expression to the values and aspirations of a free, peaceful and democratic
society. They struggled to remain loyal to the Kenya Constitution.
national culture of Kenya supports the Constitution struggling against
anti-national and anti-Constitution and anti-African culture. I salute
those who actively participated in the making of and aspiring for a culture
that would allow Kenyans to practice their constitutional rights.
It is against this background that I present this paper and address
Terms of Reference given to me (Appendix 1). The Terms of Reference
grouped and covered under three sections of this paper.
National culture, Kenyan identity, ethnic diversity and what need to
captured in the Constitution
National culture is the total culture of a nation and it encompasses
culture of governance. The culture of the citizens, the ones who are
governed, create social values and ethics from their heritage and the joys
and difficulties of everyday life. That culture of the citizens should
the guide and it must be able to monitor the culture of governance so that
it too follows the ethics of daily life that protect and enhance values
freedom, security and democracy. I shall be specific.
The following are four examples that suggest what the national culture,
Kenyan identity and ethnic diversity represents and what need to be
captured by the Constitution. It may be noted that these examples are drawn
from four of many other living and contemporary cultures of Kenya. My
emphasis is in this paper will be on the often ignored but nevertheless
significant ethnic cultures of Kenya.
The Munyoyaya of the Tana River is a little known group which, has much
wisdom to offer. They are agricultural and fisher people of Cushitic
background. The Munyoyaya animal totem is the tortoise. The tortoise
withdraws when disturbed and patiently waits until the danger passes away.
Says Mzee Ababuya Afoka, a Munyoyaya elder:
Mzee Afoka says:
" A wise leader is like the tortoise. He does not appreciate violence
it is this wisdom that has guided the Munyoyaya through their history
they have never been to war with another community. Your belief is
force inside and that inside force is the authority to keep the well-being
of the society and preserve life. In every society it is the customs that
hold the authority in place and customs change when the authority changes
and when people's customs change the authorities need to change ".
The new Kenya Constitution must capture that aspect of the national culture
which defines the relationship between the citizens and their government as
said by the Munyoyaya elder. Mzee Afoka says simply that the authority must
change when the people change and the people need to change to change
authority. The Constitution must help the authority and the people
that process and it must mirror that process of change of which
Constitutionalism is a part if not a driving force.
The People of Black Beads is another example whose generations of
experience need to be captured in the Constitution. This clan lives among
the greater Borana ethnic group of Northern Kenya and Southern
The clan protects the society from evils of violence and conflict. The
of the people of the Black Beads is to ornament, which is made of black
wooden beads, in a chain around the neck. This is an artefact of wisdom
an elite group. Note that they are the elites of the society because
their virtues and not because of their wealth.
The constitution must lead us to a non-violent society. I agree conflicts
will be there but its how the conflicts are managed that need to
Lets leam an ancient African way to keep order from the people of the
Another culture of high integrity and ethics for preservation of life
the Akurino of Kenya. They are called the Independent Church of Africa
actually like the Amish and Mennonite communities of North America whose
social systems protect them from insecurities, the Akurino are a reformed
group of African Christians. During the last almost eighty years they
developed their own set of social values, material culture and systems
protection against injustice and violence initially of colonialism.
Akurino are an example of how the old and new have been integrated and
continue to be reintegrated into the changing structures of social,
economic and political life of new African States. There are more than
fifty independent churches in Kenya incorporating the old with the new
searching for meaning and order in today's violent society.
Many such social formations as the Akurino mentioned above, have
strengthened their community culture across in Kenya in response to
injustice, forced imposition of values, violence and damage done to
community structures by centrally administered State. These registered
unregistered faith groups are withdrawing from the 'mainstream' faiths
disintegrating cultures in pursuit of peace and meaning of life that
State cannot claim to provide. Yet they manifest high standards of social
ethics (such as volunteerism, community building and work ethics) that
Constitution must capture so that Kenyans may draw lessons from the
histories and lives of these groups. In European history Protestant culture
and work ethics grew out of numerous breakaway churches at times when
old religion and governance could no longer hold the centre. I am not
suggesting that there is a parallel case in Kenya. Our histories and
cultural backgrounds are different but the example provides an insight
how communities reorganize themselves when conditions are adverse to
standard of values.
There is also for example, Iltoruesh clan of the Ikisongo section of
Maasai of the Kilimanjaro region. The Iltoruesh actually exclude the
warrior age set in their social system. After initiation the Iltoruesh
young men go through the ritual that cleanses them and consequently allows
them to pass over the otherwise compulsory grade of Maasai moranhood
become junior elders. The Iltoruesh are the givers of prayers and rules
maintenance of human security and the social order of the Maasai
They live close to the sacred mountain Ol Donyo Lengai. Ol Donyo Lengai as
the name says, is the Mountain of God.
African spirituality embodies values for enhancement of life and not its
destruction that the Constitution must state. After all the Constitution
an instrument to advance values of life and well being and it sanctions
forces that are against values of life and social well being. The Iltoruesh
go to settle disputes, not the morans. Olemal or peace delegation are
formed and resolution sought. This is a long standing Maasai policy
resolution of conflicts within the community. The Constitution must draw
from our peace building traditions and give guidance to formation of a
policy for settlement of conflicts within the larger Kenyan community.
Policies are based on values. Amazingly there is no national policy on
resolution of conflicts in a country of such a rich heritage of a culture
of peace. The result is that when there are conflicts the GSU, the police
and the military creates a havoc and runs over a civilized nation, looting
and raping along the way to conflict resolution. The Iltoruesh among other
traditional civilizations show us how a culture of violence can be
contained. This what the Constitution needs to recognize.
The four examples given above from diverse Kenyan communities which
incidentally, not connected with each other in any way, reflect on the
values of life and well being. These values are peace, spirituality
freedom that citizens of Kenya desire and have deep hope that the new
Constitution will be so drafted as to direct the law to provide the
mechanisms for them to develop in time to come. Note the diversities in
examples discussed above which is the strength that too needs to be
acknowledged as our national heritage. The examples are from Cushitic,
Bantu and Nilotic civilizations of Kenya.
How National Culture, Kenyan Identity and Ethnic Diversity can be protected
and promoted in the Constitution ?.
This section relates to and builds on the previous one. There are 5 areas
that the new Constitution may consider for protection and promotion of
Kenya's national culture, identity and ethnic diversity.
1. Protect the Kenyan culture, identity and ethnic diversity from
The Constitution must protect and give exposure to expression of
ethnic identities in their many forms such as distinct customs, art forms,
languages, dress, music and dance. Protect them from manipulation for
political ends, as has been the case during recent years and especially
during past elections. Ethnic cultural characteristics and traditions
been used to cause fear, suspicion and ultimately hate by drawing on
differences such as between the circumcised and the uncircumcised citizens,
as features of ridicule and later termed into reasons for, prejudice
hate and even separateness. How easily is our strength turned into our
During the independence era there were instances such as forced and public
removal of Pokot ornaments and dress by the GSU. There was public shaming
of the Turkana and Pokot way of adornment and generally of pastoralist
lifestyles. It was cultural humiliation. Dissatisfaction of ethnic citizens
towards the unfamiliar and unfriendly style of governance and management
their resources was termed either as a revolt or banditry. Conflicts
their resources were often blamed on the people's backwardness and
primitivism. Yet the ethnic communities of Kenya value love for the
spirituality and in all hold such a humanistic culture that the
Constitution has yet to define. But this is possible through participatory
work with the elders of the various groups.
What needs to be protected and promoted in the Constitution is the respect
for a pluralist society at the very grassroots. This includes mutual
respect for the intellectual, cultural and environmental resources of
many civilizations. The diversity needs to be recognized and promoted
nationally in such forms as signboards in regional areas written in ethnic
languages and government officers learning and knowing languages of
regions of their work stations. This is one way of giving a face, a visage
to a pluralist country.
Enhance and develop all ethnic languages as mother tongues and
and English as languages for national unity and advancement. In many
regions of Kenya the young population is largely a tri-language. It's
right of the citizens and the children to own their heritage
Legalize and acknowledge this fact, and let's be proud of it. In this
aspect we are a unique nation.
Secondly at another level the largely oral and visual peoples of Kenya need
to see and listen to each other which would be a start to. build towards
national culture of a pluralist Kenya. That is cultural enhancement that
would allow the removal and putting aside of the politically motivated
suspicion and fear that we have of each other. Moreover it would help
concentrate the emotions and intellectual energy of Kenyans to creativity
and provide the encouragement to build the new community driven force of
culturally diverse nation. A culture which guarantees freedom of
expression, association and thought can yet be restored and take shape in
people to people communication mode in rural as well as in context of
settings. The government must trust its people. The government must trust
The Constitution can facilitate people to people communication in three
ways. One is to locate and strengthen the commonalities among the many
ethnic peoples of Kenya. The second is to respect the differences in
appreciative way. Build on the inherited positive experiences that
have always had which is respecting the variety of regional customary
practices. That is our tradition and our strength. The third is to adopt
the unique traditions of some communities that express social values
such a creative and uniquely African way that we can all be proud of and it
becomes a part of our national expression.
The process of developing the national ethic begins with first describing
and understanding the multiplicity of ethnic and community ethics which
includes both faith and cultural knowledge. There are community ethics
as respecting the consensus of the elders, respect for life and the
sacredness of the earth, spirituality in the traditional belief systems
the sense of aesthetics.
The Maasai dress and adornment is proudly dawned by Miss Kenya, Miss
Tourism and by young Kenyan urbanites at the Carnivore and Safari Park
Hotel irrespective of their faith and ethnic backgrounds. We see the
beads incorporated into modern African fashion. The Constitution can
to promote such similar symbolic elements of a rich national heritage
decor and social functions. The Maasai attire and ornament has become
symbolic of a national culture and it projects such visually powerful
Kenyan National Identity through one ethnic feature and mode of beauty,
decency and pride. The Kenyan youth is searching for a Kenyan identity
own and project in this era of globalization where the youth feels
culturally marginalized. One reason for the numerous and violent school
strikes, high levels of substance abuse and falling morals of the youth may
be due to the loss of touch with social values and identity. The new
Constitution of the current generation set has the responsibility to
restore that identity.
2. Empower ethnic and civil institutions to sustain a pluralist society
Social evolution is often viewed from the primordial to a nation state
democracy on an evolutionary linear scale of political structural models
mainly from the histories of Northern Hemisphere. While the fact remains
that the security of African people lies in myriad patterns of intricately
connected and well integrated social structures of ethnic groups, clans,
sub clans and families. The State outside the cities (and nowadays in
areas of the cities as well) neither provides administration nor security.
When I go to Marsabit from Nairobi, I must fly because between Isiolo
Marsabit there is little or no government.
Yet across Kenya there are assemblies of elders who strive for communal
security and peace in spite of the violence of colonization, nationalism
and the modern State, the GSU and military in regions such as the Rift
Valley and North Eastern Provinces. The elders strive to fulfil their
responsibility to keep the inherited order of their society. For sustaining
democracy and the social ethic the Constitution needs to inculcate the
spirit and sense of justice, order and peace as it is manifested especially
among the elder managed communities. Justice system need to be culturally
constructed and justice done must be culturally accepted. Empower the
community institutions that do have the authority and wisdom to rule
This means that the African State of Kenya must rule with the elders
that ethnic diversity, Kenyan cultures, customary law and the national
identity can be protected and promoted.
The elders of the community councils hold the authority through consensus
to rule at the grassroots in a way that the modern State cannot claim
have in many parts of Africa. When the elders meet memory is evoked.
elders and the living dead hold memory of peace, security and justice.
Sometimes it is called the wisdom of the elders of Africa. Memory is
history recalled. Oral history and literature of Kenya hold codes of ethics
of a largely non-literate society. Ethnic languages invoke metaphors
symbols of social values and wisdom of good governance. These
must be maintained and developed to uphold wisdom for the generations
come. When the Constitution serves the elders, it empowers them to better
serve their communities and the government.
Kenya is a mosaic of ethnic people struggling to keep together their
fragile protective and caring community owned institutions for sustaining
life against violence of the State organs and some politicians. This is
fact that the new Constitution must accept and deal with and hence protect
the people-based institutions. When the government fails to provide
government what choice do we have? What institutions do we have in place
hold up? In absence of government mechanisms for fair justice and
protection of property and life, disintegration of surviving ethnic
civil institutions would result in further loss of self-esteem and
community's capabilities for self-preservation and propagation of even
basic human values. The national culture of Kenya, her identity and
diversity lies in the multiplicity of peoples of culture who hold a bonding
relationship with their ancient lineages, the ever-present ancestral beings
and the environment.
3. Promote and protect the Environment
In Kenya memory that refers to social values is harvested from ancient
features of the environment such as the sacred trees, mountains and waters.
The elders present themselves to the peace trees and features of the earth
in openness to receive communal with spirituality that fosters the
humanistic character of their societies.
When we are destroying our forests, we are in the process also destroying
our social and spiritual heritage. This is the heritage of human values
known to us through the people who live or have lived close to the earth
and the trees. Neither modern school education nor the modern State has
capacity to give or replace the quality of this heritage. As far back as
1932 Paramount Chief Wambugu told the colonial government that forests
Mt. Kenya were a gift that God had given the community. He was talking
about the country's spiritual and social heritages, which are closely tied.
It is the twin heritage of human values that is fundamental to the
sustenance and development of the spirit and ethics of a civil society.
In Kenya we did not write manuscripts to preserve the thoughts of the
forefathers. Our visual and oral traditions are passing away with new
spoken languages and literacy based on a European legacy. Sacred (or peace)
trees are the last remaining symbols of a memory that fostered well-being
among the communities and peace and well being with the environment.
trees also fostered civil values in a variety of contexts. Migration paths
of the three great traditions of Kenya land-marked sacred trees across
continent. Today there are groups within the Bantu conglomerate of cultures
originating from West Africa, the Nilotic from the Nile corridor and
Cushitic groups from the Red Sea region that evoke names of trees such as
the Olive Tree, the Fig Tree and the Acacia in their prayers.
Among many ethnic communities of Kenya relationship is linked to peace
nature and the earth. People pray under the trees, use foliage of peace
trees during rites of passage and they inhale the smoke of the sacred wood
in blessing rituals. They bless the earth with branches dipped in water,
milk and honey. Today clergy of the Catholic Church in Ukambani, Embu
Pokot region dip leaves of the sacred tree into the holy water and bless
the congregation and the earth with the spray. Last year the church at
Othaya blessed four African peace trees that were planted to heal the earth
at a mass graveyard of a Mau Mau concentration camp. Four thousand
came to witness healing of the earth and planting of the peace trees.
Recently Pokomo women of the Tana riverine forests at Mnazini and Baomo
protested against the presence of scientists on their land. One of
concerns was the fear for loss of their communal trees. They have
experienced this threat before to the loss of their trees like many other
citizens of Kenya such as the IiLoita of The Forest of the Lost Child
Narok and the Mijikenda of the sacred Makaya at the coast. The Pokomo,
Munyoyaya and Wailwana depend largely on beehives and other products of
forests for subsistence as well as for maintenance of their social
ethics and spirituality. Among these groups, beehives, and not cattle,
counted as bride price and there are trees in the forests that listen
their souls, mediate disputes and bring blessings of peace and prosperity.
When riverine trees are cut, the community's fundamental values for
maintenance of their economy and the security of their spirituality
unity are uprooted. The waters that supply them with fish and plants
building boats and baskets then begin to fall in level. Pacifist Munyoyaya
and Waata who prefer not to fight need the forests to shelter when the
enemy attacks. Non-violence is an ethic of these humble people and the
tortoise is the tribal totem for the animal best expresses the
lifestyle. The Constitution must protect the cultures languages and customs
of these minorities.
Celluloid images on TV, computer screens and mobile cinemas are powering
over our native imagery and emotions connected to the natural landscapes
and all the metaphors of knowledge, languages and sensitivities that
been preserved for what may be called the being in us. We are losing that
touch with land and how to work the earth. Legends are no longer told
Central Province that Agikuyu have a deep historical connection with Mukuyu
(Ficus Sycomorus), the tree after which ancestor Gikuyu was named for
was the great Mukuyu himself. But Mukuyu today must exist if the society
to exist in kinship with other trees of the mountain of God such as Muiri
(Prunus Africana) and Mutamaiyu (Olea Africana), and in kinship with
forests, waters, animals, the mountains and people of the earth so that
may live in peace and prosper.
The fact that few Agikuyu today know that their community is named after
the sacred tree, Mukuyu, testifies how rapidly we are losing our identity
and values that emerge from an identity of a people whose birth was
Globalisation will not consider African sensitivities for we did not invent
the tools of literacy and the electronic media. Our intelligence cannot
stored electronically and our spirituality cannot be sensed by artificial
intelligence. The media that can yet honour early memories comprise
environment: the mountains, the plains, skies, waters and the trees.
features are all protected by the forests, the cloth of God and by ethnic
visual and oral traditions which are an integral to our identity. The new
Constitution is the Great Law, and the great law has to guard the source
life which are the forests of the land. The Great Law must also protect
yet to be researched and documented sources of Africa's knowledge.
4. Protect and promote the National Aesthetic
Protection of elder institutions, the forests and community's social
and security is supported by and linked to the domain of aesthetics in
ethnic societies. Colors and patterns are power symbols of peace and
in many societies. Ethnic aesthetic systems encompass beauty, sacredness
the land and life. There are often women-made bead patterns of the order
beauty, metaphors associated with social integrity, and there are
accompanying songs and narratives of beauty, peace and relationship
building. These stylized expressions affirm life and the order of living
communities. For example, the Maasai word for beauty is osotua. It's also
metaphor for close social relationship and the umbilical cord. It means
peace as well and most important it means a gift out of friendship.
Constitution must protect our national aesthetic values from
and oblivion even before they are understood and documented for generations
to come for they must know what a bead, a colour and pattern meant to
African people of Kenya.
Let me elaborate further. Beauty in Maa is osotua and like sidai it is
greeting for the goodness, well-being and prosperity for it is the mother's
umbilical cord that we all once shared. Peace is out of respect of the
original relationship that all humans and animals of this earth began
in the womb, a woman's gift of life and the gift of motherhood. The earth
is the mother.
In pastoralist civilizations there are different symbols of keeping social
order. The Constitution is fundamentally about keeping the social order
affirming the values of life and security that we cherish. Ethnic
among the contemporary societies of the vast northern regions of Kenya
expressed in imagery of patterns on animals and in the colours of
culture and the environment. They are the visual expressions of social
protective and care giving structures that support community pro-life
The meticulously constructed and disciplined patterns of beauty are given
thought and expression in ornamentation types made by mainly women
consciously and mathematically calculated to compliment functions of
administrators and protectors of their rights and values. For this reason
there should be no tax on importation of beads and other art material.
Today beads are heavily taxed as luxury goods like diamonds and BMWs.
coloured beads are material for expression of a national aesthetic. Protect
and enhance the people's sense of beauty, the joy of life and peace.
Maasai say where there is no beauty there is no peace. And peace is
highest quality for maintenance to regulate society that the
is drafted to guarantee that we have it.
5. Protect and promote the material culture of Kenya
Everyday there is massive exportation of Kenya's material culture. The
previous part directly discussed the importance of beaded ornaments to
Kenyan identity and national culture. The ornaments are just one category
of material culture. We have other categories such as containers and
furniture. All these are important for promoting and projecting our
of who we are and where are we coming from. The Constitution must allow
facilitate appreciation of our own self-images, our art history and
of aesthetic pleasure derived from our ancient artefacts, the environment,
rituals and the earth. And for this to happen we must have time to
understand and know the yet unknown visual traditions of function and decor
such as the diversity of aesthetic systems of Kenya.
How the Constitution should deal with discriminatory aspects of culture
The new Constitution must deal with the pain of humiliation, collective
trauma and fear that the people have suffered during the post independence
times due to the discriminatory aspects of culture of governance.
To deal with discriminating aspects of culture, the Constitution must
recognize the wrong that has been done by the State to the citizens of
Kenya. Healing of the humiliated Kenyans is a process towards making of
new Constitution that promises the practice of a culture that it stipulates
in statements about rights of the citizens. Without trust and justice which
can only come from reconciliation with the past, the new Constitution
be viewed as yet another document of hypocrisy. Constitution must allow
every region a body of elders to deal with tribalism first of their own
people to heal the relationships with the 'other', the earth and the
The elders must be allowed to deal with the State instituted crimes.
this way give the citizens the opportunity to own the Constitution. In
nation where the written word called the Law is in a foreign language
posited in an unfamiliar medium, the Constitution process and content
got to be in the cultural medium of the majority of Kenyans in both its
form and content.
Healing is a universal human phenomenon that different cultures perform as
their own community owned rites of performance. Healing is necessary
correcting the wrong, the discrimination and preparing the ground for
reconciliation which a step towards national unity that the
seeks as one of its major goals.
Kenya is a nation in mourning after four decades of a violent history.
Kenya's map is dotted with sites if massacres and killings. The new
Constitution must help by giving protection to reconstruct a depressed
culture and our national self-esteem. The Kenyan nation needs to come
terms with the past especially the recent past since independence which
a painful living memory for many. The nation must reconcile with itself
make peace with justice. Culture changes and brings about changes. The new
Constitution is a part of that change in the process to bring about changes.
Western values that reflect on the evolution of a democratic pluralist
society such as equal inheritance rights for women, freedom to expression
of diversity of intellectual traditions and right to refuse a
discriminatory traditional custom are certainly worthy of consideration
commenting on, modifying and building of the national ethic. As is the
with other nations of the world there is both the universality and
specificity in adopting constitutional principles. The specificity comes
from unique cultural experiences which this paper emphasizes.
The nationalist discourse prior to and post independence enabled venting
anger and pain against racism and mistreatment of the black subjects of
colony of Kenya. It also enabled restoration of self-esteem and trust
the making of the new nation, the new Constitution and the new leadership.
Praise songs, monuments and legends celebrating the people reconstructed
our national pride and gave expression to a national culture that in
supported the new Constitution and leadership. The new Constitution of
independent Kenya was to provide a facility for expression and healing
humiliation of the past. That was a parallel step towards developing a
culture of change.
Today we need a Constitution that can provide Kenyans to work without fear
towards a culture that would allow us to handle an unresolved and a hurting
era of the last forty years. Many questions will be asked because of
suspicion and betrayal by the past parliaments. That's part of the healing
process, the right to questions, to correct the wrong and learn from
mistakes. That is a process to deal with discrimination and a process
making of the new Constitution to restore the confidence of the nation
that creativity of a suppressed people can be harnessed to develop a
healthy nation. The Great New Law must help thoughts, intellect, creativity
and emotions of the nation to be shared and appreciated without fear
with freedom and trust, first in ourselves and then in the leadership
European nations came to reconstruct their culture after the
caused by the World Wars by first holding massive healing ceremonies in
churches and at graveyards. Then came building of memory monuments and
museums to the violence. These were physical and tangible manifestations
a new culture protected by the new laws. Germany and Austria turned
concentration camps and execution sites into national museums that would
educate and remind the people of the mistakes of the past and especially
the State's violence against her citizens. Their new constitutions provided
freedoms of expressions that worked towards healing of the nations.
Americans built the Vietnam Wall in Washington to heal the nation mourning
the deaths. The Americans built the Peace Garden in Nairobi at the place
the 1998 bomb blast of the American embassy while at the same time
constructing the new embassy on Mombasa Road.
The process of making a new Constitution of Kenya is itself a process
making a new culture. It is a struggle against anti-Constitution forces
which we have been witnessing since the work of the Commission
There are more examples.
The new South African constitution came into being with support of the
Peace and Justice Commission. The South African Commission had an important
role to play during the interim period so that the public can accept
new Constitution. Perhaps we need to do the same. Rwanda and Burundi
working towards support of their citizens for their new constitutions
through the Peace and Justice Commission that is all to do with
discriminatory culture that led to favouring one tribe, ethnic group
against another. The failure of the International Court in Arusha to
with crimes of the genocide is a lesson for us. Rwanda and Burundi
finally reverted back to the elders councils to deal with the pain and
humiliation of the citizens misled by tribalism and the lack of law to
protect the cultures from being manipulated for political ends. The elders
courts are called Gachacha which literally means grassroots.
The new Great Law of Kenya, the Constitution, must allow an expression
the healing of the nation in all its aspects and for all its people
the 1960s massacres of the of the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Meru,
Samburu elders at Wamba, and the massacres of Borana, Sekuye and
during the first decade of independence. The North Eastern Province must
allowed to tell the nation of the tragedies of the large concentration
camps of Merti and Garba Tula. The nation must above all hear the most
recent 1990s killings of the Pokot, the Bukusu, the Agikuyu of the Rift
Valley, the Mijikenda and the Luo of Likoni. These events are national
they need to be given national acknowledgement through moaning and healing
in forms appropriate to the cultural norms of the citizens, the majority
the affected, so they can see and hear and heal and finally accept the new
Constitution as a worthy document that will protect their right to life
security. Funeral rites and bereavement processes are very important
aspects of African culture that the New Constitution must acknowledge as
the people would like to see them acknowledged.
There was forced denuding of Pokot mothers of their skin garments and beads
which were later burned by the GSU on the airstrip at Orwa in 1978. There
have been atrocities of the Kenya Police and GSU in the slums of
Mathari Valley in 1982, Kibera in 2001. The GSU and riot police who gazed
upon the self-denudation of their age set mothers in early 1990 at
Park was a public shameful event, which needs to be cleansed in an equally
public ceremony for the cursed ones. We are Africans and we must work
the legitimate grievances in an African way. That is an event that reflects
supremely well on the national culture of Kenya at the time and it needs
be given the visibility in an African customary way. The Constitution must
recognize, legitimate and promote such cleansing rites for the good of
The Constitution can deal with the discriminatory aspects of culture
providing for the performance of rites and exhibitions to make
discrimination in all its aspects public and transparent. There is as great
a diversity of types of discriminations as there is a diversity of cultures
of Kenya. Every ethnic group has been made a stereotype to the other.
Discrimination coming from the authority means selectively promoting one
(e.g. ethnic group) and denigerating another. It is profiling typecasts
justifying ethnic killings, which is the worst form of discrimination.
The history of public performances and exhibiting cultures has passed
through phases reflecting the development and changes in human thought
society. This is a natural evolution. We have lived through the phase when
the colonial performances was the dominating images both at home and
abroad. It was the display of the others, exhibited as they were looked
upon from the vantage view of the one at the top. During the post-colonial
time it was mainly the stage and not cultures exhibitions that represented
reconstruction of social identities due to the damage done to the image
Africa and her people. But with the changing perspectives in the
scholarship of African Studies and anthropology, performances, museum
displays have changed as well.
Hence plays such as Luanda Magere and Wangu wa Makeri were about reclaiming
a suppressed social identity while others such as Ngahika Ndenda and Maitu
Njugira in ethnic languages, and Mekatilili in Kiswahili presented
alternative views of the stereo typified native. In 1997, the exhibition
the National Museums of Kenya on peace making traditions of the
Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Rendille, Gabra, Somali and Borana dispelled
falsely constructed image of the pastoralists as warriors cherishing a
culture of conflict and violence.
What has yet to emerge is the public viewing of the social history of
in the formation of postcolonial civil society, and especially now, during
the post one party State, so that the multiple histories in the making
Kenya's political social compositions and the civil societies
of the State, can be viewed through the prism of its many patterns of
Selectively told and performed culture and history of Kenya is a form
discrimination that the Constitution must sanction. Ultimately
discriminatory information gets reproduced in school books and the
curriculum. The cycle of misinformation gets reinforced.
Historically speaking, the phases of stage and museum performances are
situations in tensions and transitions, between traditions and modernity,
ethnic and religious practices, civil societies and styles of governance.
However, what is of significance is not how different we are in terms
our customs, languages and beliefs, that map us out as exclusive societies,
each unable to integrate and form one non-tribal fellowship of citizens;
but how and when social identities of the diverse and distinct peoples
Kenya become complementary to one other in the evolution of a national
cause and a civil society rooted in its own varied cultural and economic
resources. In that we have to know first where we are coming from and what
we have to offer each other as a people, and as a nation of people, whose
ancestors walked down the Nile, and from the Red Sea; from West Africa,
those who sailed on the Ocean harnessing the Trade Winds to come to
Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi.
In order to deal with State propagated discrimination, permit the
Constitution to make known the history that Kenyans know, they know it
sure in their hearts. Let the torture chambers of the Nyati House be turned
into a museum to allow the public to see what they already know. Let what
we have done to each other be on display for reflection and healing so that
the present and future generations to come learn from our history on public
display. That is national culture. Put together exhibitions on corruption,
torture and illegal imprisonment to travel nationally. That is a good forum
for civil education. The new Constitution ought to develop a national
cultural education forum that is not a one time event before the elections
but a continuing lifelong educational process. Give the law a chance
avoid further violence and discrimination. Suppressed anger, humiliation
and pain are dangerously volatile. Give the new Constitution a chance
provide and foster national unity through ownership of it by the
And the people can only own it if it is in the medium that is also owned
In a historical perspective, the present State and the parliament is a
passing phase. The new Constitution is obliged to reflect as correctly as
it is possible, the Kenyan reality and aspirations of her people. In
absence of culturally appropriate mechanisms to gather opinions and
feelings of a diversity of communities, one has to rely on expressions
national sentiments such as gatherings at Kamukunji, stories and songs
justice and peace, riots and protests. These is the expressive culture
this particular historical moment. We must listen to it. It is the best
the national culture that one can get at this moment to build the Great
and help us to come in touch with the values, especially African humanistic
traditions, to be inherited and be fashioned in constructing a new culture
of peace, devoid of fear, suspicion and violence. That is the path to
future and we make that path by walking. We make the new culture by walking
with the new Constitution. The citizens must walk with the Constitution
that the Constitution helps the Government to walk with the people.
The venues that allow national cultural expressions are in forms of dance,
drama, languages, dialogues and visual arts. And there area diversity
artistic and linguistic forms. The venues can also be in form of monuments
and museums commemorating the living memories of discrimination and
injustices. When there are deep feelings of suffering, human suffering,
ethnic suffering, individual family suffering, they are all Kenyan
suffering. These can be sufferings because of disagreement with the
or one ruling party or an elite group or even an individual. When the law
cannot protect the rich and the poor, the rulers and the citizens alike,
then it is discriminating.
When the Constitution cannot or will not promote correction of the
injustices, it is discriminatory. Support the Constitutional right of
freedom of conscience and expression of thought and association to be
manifested to work out a democracy in practice. The vast majority of
of Kenyan are visual and oral in manufacturing, understanding and
transmission of knowledge. These three aspects of knowledge of a largely
visual and oral society are articulated in the arts of the society forged
by both the colonial and post colonial struggle to free the spirit from
injustices of the times. Culture is about the human spirit. Nationalists
Kenya rode on the back of culture to achieve freedom. We must do the same
to fortify the Constitution and the processes of Constitutionalism with
life long national culture that will not allow subversion of both the
Constitution and Constitutionalism once again.
The material in this paper is largely drawn from oral and visual
collected over nine years of field work under the Community Peace
Programme covering about 30 ethnic groups in Kenya. Written sources that
have influenced the writing of the paper are listed below.
1999 Conflict resolution and reconciliation among the Chagga of Tanzania in
All Africa Conference of Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation
Barrett, Anthony Joseph
1998 Sacrifice and prophecy in Turkana Cosmology. Nairobi: Pauline
1999 A Comparative Study of Somali Approaches to Reconciliation in All
Africa Conference of Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation Report,
Farah, Yusuf Ahmed
1999 Roots of reconciliation:Local level peace process in Somalia in
Conference of Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation Report, Addis Ababa.
1999 Somaliland: Peace, reconciliation and governance in All Africa
Conference of Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation Report, Addis Ababa.
1998 African Religions and Abundance of Life. Nairobi: Pauline Publications
1999 Traditional mechanism of conflict prevention, management, and
resolution in Nuba Mountain region of South Kordofan State of Sudan in
Africa Conference of Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation Report,
1997 Conflict Resolution Wisdom from Africa. Durban: ACCORD.
Maranz, David E.
1993 Peace is everything: World View of Muslims in Senegambia.
Texas: International Museums of Cultures.
Lutheran World Relief
1996 Peace and Reconciliation: A case study of the Ogwedhi-Sgawa
Development Project-A local peace initiative of the Kuria, Luo and
Linder, Evelin Gerda
Moratorium on Humiliation Cultural and 'Human Factor' Dimensions Underlying
Structural Violence. Paper presented at the UN, New York December 2001
1997 The Bending of Spears: Producing consensus for peace and
in Northern Uganda. London: Report Commissioned by International Alert.
1998 Pokot Religions. Oegstgeest: Hendrik Kraemer Institute. Nairobi:
Paulines Publications Africa.
Daily Nation January 1999-March 1999. Nairobi: Nation News Papers Ltd.
Appendix 1 The Terms of Reference
1. Whether we have a Kenyan identity that can be recognized in the
2. The contribution of ethnic and cultural diversity to a national culture
3. What cultural and ethnic values should be captured in the Constitution?
4. How culture and ethnic diversity can be protected and promoted in
5. How the Constitution should deal with discriminatory aspects of culture?
6. The place of customary law in the constitution.
7. Religion and its place in the constitution
8. What should be our language policy?
9. Whether constitutional principles are universal - is there cultural
relativity in their observance?
10. Are there "Western values" recognized in our culture?
Appendix II 'Priest seeks police help over sacred tree threat'
Daily Nation Monday January 7, 2002
A church minister wants police to protect him after he was threatened
death for leading his followers in cutting down and burning a sacred tree.
The Rev Dominic Kiloku of the Assemblies of God Church in Laikipia District
yesterday said elders in Mukogodo division had threatened to kill him after
he declined to atone for his alleged desecration of a sacred tree
traditionally used by the residents for spiritual rites.
The destroyed tree was located at Kantana village in Makurian location.
meeting convened by Makurian location chief, Mr Elen ole Legei,resolved
have the preacher atone for his alleged offence by offering the elders
goat and local brew before they could cleanse him.
But in his defence, the preacher reached for his Bible, opened it and
started reading it.
He was shouted down as elders protested that he was making fun of a
issue, with some of them walking out of the meeting.
The priest was later condemned and cursed through traditional chants.
defiant preacher later told journalists that he would neither apologise
his actions nor offer any appeasement.
"It is my God-given duty to stop my people from worshipping
have been slaughtering and praying under the tree for rain and other things
which is contrary to Christian teachings. They had to be stopped," he
He said he believed in God and trusted that no curses would affect him
his family. He said: "However, they have now made my work very
cannot go preaching to families in their homes I fear for my life”.
Many of them have also warned their wives and children not to come to
church," he added. He said he had requested the police and the
administration to protect him from the traditionalists. During the previous
three years of severe drought which killed thousands of livestock, several
offerings were performed by elders under the fig tree - locally called
Oreteli. The last rites were performed last October.
The Mukogodo community, largely made up the Maasai and the Dorobo,
practise most of their traditional spiritual and cultural values. They
recognised by the United Nations as among the world's few remaining
threatened indigenous and tribal communities.