Jointly organized by the German Embassy, the Local Community Festival Committee, National Museums of Kenya and Private Safaris, the Lake Turkanan Festival has been held in Loiyangalani, Kenya on an annual basis since 2008 when it was proposed by the local community.
Kenya is highly ethnically and culturally diverse: they have 42 different ethnic communities, each with its own cultural traditions. In the Lake Turkana region, there are ten ethnic communities, and the event features unique cultures of each community, through music performances, sports events, food demonstrations, and arts exhibitions.
The festival website emphasizes that this is not a mere “a light cultural entertainment programme” but has a deeper purpose: it helps to overcome “lack of infrastructure, fights among ethnic communities and environmental challenges an opportunity for cross-cultural interaction and reconciliation.”
It also says this event is both for individual visitors (domestic&international) to experience fascinating cultures, and for “the private sector as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations” to open up a new market in the marginalized region.
I thought this initiative illustrates the qualities of “backyard diplomacy,” one of the themes introduced by our guest speaker Ms. Aimee Fullman. According to the report written by Fullman, “backyard diplomacy” is about investigating “how international connections can be built with the resources found in their own backyards,” and “efforts driven by artists, citizens, and newcomers are becoming the backbone of international cultural engagement efforts.”
She also states that the US “has a plethora of diverse artistic and cultural assets that represent the multiple identities” and has to consider how to best represent its cultural diversity in international diplomatic discussions and to connect backyard diplomacy with changing arts practices. I assumed the US and Kenya would have very different challenges but now I think the two countries share the very similar challenge in terms of cultural diplomacy.