13.02.2017 - UNESCO Office in Nairobi

UNESCO Organizes Consultative Meeting on Identity, Violence and Social Cohesion in Kenya

Participants during the Consultative Meeting on Identity, Violence and Social Cohesion in Kenya

On Monday 13 February 2017 UNESCO, with the support of UNDP, held a consultative meeting on countering identity-based violence and promoting social cohesion in Kenya as a means to contribute to the reduction of internal factionalism, ethnic sectarianism, and violent extremism. The meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 50 interested partners, including academics and researchers, lawmakers, institutions working to promote social cohesion and national integration, students and youth representatives, civil society and UN agencies, to brainstorm on this subject, and define the way forward.

The meeting is part of UNESCO’s contribution to the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), in reflecting on the promotion of a peaceful and socially cohesive society, with an emphasis on conflict prevention in Kenya and the wider Eastern Africa region. The event discussed the root causes of divisions within Kenya’s cultural identity, and plotted how those divisions may be countered with positive unifying messaging of Kenyan cultural diversity, heritage and traditions, through policy dialogues and advocacy campaigns.

In his welcome remarks, the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee, emphasised that since “it is in the minds of men that war begins,” as eloquently stated in the Preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution, “the defences of peace must be constructed” in their minds, as the firm base for peaceful coexistence, and a socially cohesive world. He applauded Kenya as a beacon of hope in the region with a strong presence of institutions of governance, a vibrant civil society, a large innovative youth population, as well as a free and fair media that highlight and advance issues of peace, security and development. He however concluded by calling on all stakeholders, including government and its partners to do more, to reduce inequalities, which are roots of divisions in society.

In the same light, Mr. Pierre Sane of Imagine Africa Consult, noted that imagination is essential in defining the problems of division in society, so as to ultimately assist in crafting appropriate public policies that would address the social, political and economic inequalities. Mr. Sane further noted that Africa’s “ethnic and cultural diversity will lead to positive economic and social transformation” but cautioned that this will only happen if genuine efforts are made to promote cohesion among the diverse population groups. He therefore welcomed the opportunity for Imagine Africa Consult to partner with UNESCO, UNDP and other relevant stakeholders in Kenya to address the issues that undermine cohesion in the country. Imagine Africa Consult (IAC) is a Dakar-based think tank, and its partner, Organization for Identity and Cultural Development (OICD), represented at the meeting by Dr. Bruce White, is based in Kyoto, Japan.

In his remarks, Hon. Yusuf Hassan, Member of Parliament from Kamukunji Constituency, in Nairobi, added that cultural and political will are important in addressing social inclusion in Kenya. Borrowing from the experience of South Africa, he reiterated that the Kenyan state has a critical role to play in unifying its citizens and addressing social, political and economic underlying factors of divisions, so as to heal wounds from the past that has partly contributed to certain communities in Kenya feeling excluded and discriminated against. In his conclusion, he emphasised the need to target the young people so as to address issues of radicalization and extremism. Mr. Hassan pointed out that cultural diversity should be used as a tool to promote cohesion, rather than division.

Following a day-long deliberations during which various institutions shared their perspectives on the subject, partners agreed to establish a working group with responsibility to flesh out the details and substantive components (research, policy dialogues, public engagement, including on the forthcoming elections in August 2017, advocacy, etc.) of the initiative, and engage with all stakeholders to truly promote social cohesion in Kenya. It was also agreed that the youth in particular, should be engaged more, on matters of identity, violence and cohesion, especially as Kenya prepares for elections later this year, and finally that multiple approaches, including leveraging technology to sensitize the population on the subject matter must be employed.

Click here for photos of the event


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