This three-year AHRC-funded collaborative project ended in September 2011. Undertaken in collaboration with Annie E. Coombes (Birkbeck College, University of London) and Karega-Munene (United States International University, Nairobi) the research examined the many different ways in which Kenyans are engaging with the past in the present time, and explored recent developments in the state and civil society-led heritage sectors. It has resulted in a co-authored book, Managing Heritage, Making Peace: History, Identity and Memory in Contemporary Kenya, published by I.B. Tauris in 2011.
One of the main objectives of the project was to examine the recent history of heritage management in Kenya, and citizens’ engagement with heritage, in order to understand the different ways in which this postcolonial nation is coming to terms with its past – a precondition for moving forward.
By ‘engagement’ we meant the wide variety of activities that may lie outside the state-managed national heritage sector and are inclusive of ordinary Kenyans, such as creating local community museums, commemorating local heroes, conserving cultural artifacts, sacred sites and intangible heritage such as language and song.
These different sectors – national and local, state and community-led – are of course interconnected. But there are contestations between and within them. For example, ordinary citizens may have different ideas about what should happen at a particular site of memory, who should be commemorated and why, and which particular group’s history should be privileged above another. Sometimes state and citizens seem to be talking two different languages, in terms of the past or imagined past, and future prospects for nation-building, peace, truth and reconciliation. Our earlier pilot study showed that these tensions were already evident before the post-electoral crisis of 2007/8, but this brought them into sharper focus – because, while constitutional and political, it was more fundamentally a crisis of nationhood, identity, history, memory and heritage that will take far longer to resolve. These tensions were manifested in the activities we studied, and the discourses around them.