Kenya’s Cultural Diplomacy: A New Frontier For Pan Africanism and African Renaissance

joel obengo By JOEL OBENGO

Cultural diplomacy involves exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their people, which fosters mutual understanding. This exchange of ideas is but one aspect of public diplomacy, in combination to its goals and objectives to advance national interest to win hearts and minds of foreign publics.

According to Katherine P. Avgerinos, a noted public diplomacy expert, the USSR went to burial ground through the use of cultural diplomacy; employing cultural promotion and cultural offensive as instruments in addition to the political and economic machinations. She also asserts that cold war in late 1990s was not traditional political and military divergent opinion but was an ideological and culture contest on a global scale and without historical precedent. She argues that cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation.

Probably having learnt from these lessons, Kenya’s foreign ministry developed a cultural diplomacy institutional framework aimed at improving country’s current image, condition and position. The framework is aligned with public policy objective to influence the world and specifically African publics, for the creation of a community of shared African destiny – a destiny free of poverty, perennial intrastate and interstate conflicts. It is further aligned with the objective of creating a developed continent with the strength and power to influence global order.

In the West, there is a broad orthodoxy that posits Kenya as being in decline. This teaching emphasizes the insecurity, stagnation in cultural, political and economical domains. It emphasizes Kenya’s dependence on agriculture and major domestic upheavals. While Kenya acknowledges these challenges, the country also emphasizes opportunities available to use cultural tools to overcome them

Realizing socio-economic transformation and reducing poverty incidences in Africa is a major surmountable challenge facing African leaders .The continent faces security challenges from extremist groups as Boko Haram and al-Qaida affiliated Al shabab based in war torn Somalia.

According to Kenya’s national security and foreign policy document, mutual trust , close interaction and mutual understanding of the people of Africa to march forward towards a stable prosperous and secure Africa and in this regard, cultural interaction as part of people to people relations is designed to build on similarities, strengths and gains of Africans and ultimately coordinate and cooperate for the advancement in key aspects as economic, social, political and cultural. This emerging concept fits into the wider framework of Kenya’s strategic thinking. Cultural consideration in this new paradigm takes into account national security strategy, commercial interests, regional priorities and military doctrine

The exemplary models of making diplomacy public, to turn to African people, is an agent of pan African grand strategy for the journey of peace, harmony, prosperity and dignity of Africa driven by its peoples. Maasai dancers from Kenya have projected Kenya’s culture music, tradition, dressing and dances in Africa and beyond and it has created a detailed picture of the country’s vision, its development agenda and special contribution to African renaissance.

Maasai dancers from Kenya have projected Kenya’s culture music, tradition, dressing and dances in Africa and beyond. Photo: oloipmaasai.org

The reason for placing Kenya’s cultural diplomacy beyond the classical diplomacy entails grand developmental strategy and long term vision to East Africa Community as well as the continental affairs of African Union. However, it is difficult to measure the level of influence of these Maasai cultural troupes’ tour and performances on the hearts and minds of the African publics.

There exists important reality that is telling to bolster cooperative government and government relations in Africa. This is an opportunity for Kenya and other regional governments to embark on a shared, equitable, sustainable and shared utilization of the resources, for example the Nile River, which has seen tensions between upper riparian and lower riparian states. This cultural diplomacy tool places much emphasis on dialogue, consensus building, multilateralism, shared progress and mutual benefit and this has no place for zero sum security and political mentality.

As the African Union supports Africa’s integration and development, giving space for people to people exchange and sharing ideas and views in matters that are affecting their lives will speed up the efforts. Kenya’s cultural diplomacy should be aimed to feature and embody the people’s aspiration and demands for the dignity, peace and harmony of Africa.

The cultural and theatre performances of the Maasai cultural troupe is a first step to encourage people to people interaction which facilitates reflections on the past and look to the future. Kenya’s public diplomacy is a bridge that draws the people of the region closer together for the realization of a harmonious, stable and prosperous future.

Kenya needs to broaden this experience towards other regions like Eastern Europe and Asia which can help excavate the similarities linking them to people of Africa and it could be a new frontier for sourcing of tourists besides training eyes on traditional sources like Western Europe and the United States.

There is need for Kenya’s cultural diplomacy to integrate research on the rich traditions, cultures, customs and values that exist across various regions of the country.

Kenya, endowed with plethora of cultural riches,heritages,history, customs and traditions has various instruments that can be used to influence and win the hearts and minds of foreign nationals to help support Kenya’s policies, values and demonstrations in regional, continental and global affairs. It ought to turn those elements into instruments of its cultural diplomacy to build people to people relations for the advancement of national interest on the basis of win-win outcomes.

As this cultural diplomacy is part of Africa reawakening, Kenya needs to dedicate efforts to take advantage of various conferences and summits held in Nairobi and other African capital cities to inculcate its vision of pan Africanism and African renaissance.

The way forward is to hasten regional economic cooperation, integration through trade, collaborative infrastructure investments like the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET ),increase connectivity to rejuvenate and enhance the scale, level and depth of the bilateral cooperative partnership to tap all round cooperation potential and renew and prioritize the historic people to people ties to promote exchanges and to scale up high level consultations on global issues of common interest.

About the author

(Joel Obengo is an administrator, human security and diplomatic affairs expert and GSDM’s Kenya based Development Reporter. He is the representative for East and Southern Africa Region in Red Elephant Foundation 2015 Fellowship. In May 2015,Joel was selected among the emerging diplomatic professionals to undergo Asia-Europe Public Diplomacy Public Training Initiative a joint Collaboration of DiploFoundation, Asia-Europe Foundation and the National Centre for Research on Europe –University of Canterbury.)

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