The European Union (EU) Deputy Head of Delegation to Kenya Bruno Pozzi has urged all Kenyans to embrace their rich cultural diversity and use it for unity rather than allow it to divide the country.
The Deputy Ambassador was speaking at the EU Heritage Day celebrations held at the Nairobi Museums on Thursday.
He said: "For too long, culture has been treated as a side issue, a sort of niche for experts and artistes. Yet it has a far reaching effect on the economy, tourism, sustainable development, peace and reconciliation. Culture can open new channels and facilitate mutual understanding. In our world today, we need more understanding and channels of communication."
The event, which was also attended by the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Arts Dr Hassan Wario, Director General of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Mzalendo Kibunjia, and other representatives from the Ministry of Sports and Culture, NMK and the EU, was marked to celebrate the cultural heritage ties that have existed between Kenya and the EU in the last 41 years.
"We're doing the same here in Kenya to help reduce the barriers that sometimes arise between people due to cultural differences. Kenya's own heritage and culture is rich, thanks to the ethnic and social diversity in this country," added Pozzi.
Dr Wario, while echoing the Ambassador's sentiments, urged Kenyans to understand and learn to appreciate each other's cultural heritage.
"My Ministry is and has been committed to understand that we are all diverse people. The Kenya Government recognizes that celebrating our differences, as well as our common interests, helps unite and educate us," stressed the Cabinet Secretary.
"To understand others perspectives, to broaden our own, and to fully experience and educate ourselves is something that can be achieved by celebrating our diverse cultural heritage," he added.
The Cabinet Secretary additionally urged all Kenyans to be engaged in safeguarding and protecting national icons which he noted are currently facing threats and risks such as deterioration, neglect, destruction, alteration and climate change.
"Heritage conservation is threatened as the world globalizes and African economies open up to new realms of growth in the international markets while increased building construction, infrastructural expansion as well as terrorism destroy existing heritage assets. I, therefore urge all of us, stakeholders, to accord great attention to heritage conservation. The importance of cultural heritage cannot be overemphasized; its potential contribution to community development is huge throughout the world," said the Cabinet Secretary.
In order to counter the neglect and deterioration of cultural icons, he revealed that the government wants to develop 100 National Monuments in the country through a proposed national campaign dubbed '100 Best Monuments'.
He said that the campaign which will include conducting research on the monuments, building an interpretation center around them and the provision of livelihoods for communities living around the monuments, will help in a concerted preservation process.
The theme for this year's event, held every September, Heritage and Nature: A landscape of Possibilities is celebrating the intrinsic relationship between people and nature, where heritage values can be embodied in nature so that the environment can play a bigger part in shaping lives and lifestyles.
At the event, an imposing mural art painted by BSQ Art Group and the youthful Nairobi National Museums Art Club (NANAMAK), was unveiled to commemorate the EU-Kenya cultural heritage ties and will be a permanent feature at the museum.
Between 2004 and 2008, the Nairobi Museum underwent a major facelift with assistance from the European Union. The project involved the rehabilitation of the existing Museum, conversion of the redundant spaces to galleries and the design of a new entrance, visitors' centre and galleries.
The Museum now holds interactive exhibitions and displays, with a central hall surrounded by a section of permanent galleries and a rotation of temporary and visiting collections. There are also state-of-the-art exhibits and facilities structured around the original historic buildings.
In addition to the facelift within the NMK headquarters, the Mombasa and Lamu old Town buildings were refurbished through a grant from the EU for 26 buildings that were in dire need of restoration. Some of those buildings included the first post office, a police station and a hospital which were in a bad structural state.
Wario said that celebrating cultural diversity gives people the opportunities to view and understand cultures different from their own.
"By learning about other cultures, people develop respect and tolerance for other cultures. I am indeed glad to note that one of the objectives of the European Union Heritage Days Celebrations is to increase awareness of the benefits of a shared cultural diversity and the rich mosaic of EU-Kenya cultural ties," urged the CS.
"I believe this forum will bring people together from different parts of the world and offer them a platform to experience and enjoy the rich and diverse cultures of different Nationalities. Through each other's diversity we become more aware of our own."