Contemporary development thinking and practices are rarely locally owned, with home-grown knowledge, norms and principles frequently disregarded and with culture viewed as inadequate to inform sustainable solutions to development challenges in Africa.
In the second edition of its guide titled Introducing Culture in Development, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) observes that in many African countries, the tendency has been to dismiss culture as dance and drama, while neglecting our rich and diverse cultural resources to inform development initiatives.
“The natural processes of cultural development have, therefore, been disrupted by norms of ‘modernisation’, which seldom take into account our local world views. Culture is then perceived as an obstacle to progress, or at best, an irrelevance. ‘Culture’ also becomes narrowly defined in terms of traditional rituals and practices, especially those that are oppressive, with an insufficient focus on the dynamism of culture and the creativity it embodies,” CCFU adds.
According to CCFU, the positive aspects of African culture, such as the spirit of communal responsibility and accountability, conflict resolution, informal moral education and inculcating the values of honesty, industriousness, virginity and abstinence, are therefore rarely utilised by development actors, while strengthening culture as part of human potential is generally given low priority.
Since its inception in 2006, CCFU has implemented research, documentation and training programmes to illustrate and substantiate its conviction that positive aspects of culture, if harnessed, can lead to meaningful and sustained development.
Through this work, the foundation defined a Culture in Development (CiD) approach which recognises and integrates positive aspects of culture in all spheres of development.
This approach also provides for respectful engagement with aspects of culture that are controversial or in conflict with modern development principles.
Drawing knowledge and lessons from its work with a wide range of partner organisations, both within and outside Uganda, CCFU has produced a CiD training guide which provides insights on the relevance of culture in contemporary development and practical tools to address cultural issues.
The guide that was launched in Kampala in April, is meant to enable trainers and development workers acquire hands-on-knowledge and skills to analyse culture and harness its power to make their development practice more effective and sustainable.
There are nine parts to this guide. Each contains exercises that can either be facilitated in a workshop environment, or in community ranging from: identifying cultural resources in the community; culture and the development organisation; dealing with cultural controversies; and implementing a culture in development, among others.
The second edition of the manual has been updated and enlarged with new tools and experiences arising from CCFU’s past five years of field practice, working with communities, cultural institutions, and local governments in the region, sometimes in new areas of engagement – such as on culture and governance systems, heritage education and curricula in secondary schools, as well as the often controversial issue of cultural rights.
The manual has also been enriched with examples from CCFU’s work in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
For example, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Strategic Plan (2015-2020) provides for integration of culture and indigenous knowledge in conservation. Therefore, UWA has developed guidelines on integration of cultural values into protected area management.
In this regard UWA has adopted the Cultural Values Conservation Project (CVCP) with the goal to demonstrate how building local interest in and support for protected areas can be achieved by managing parks to reflect the cultural values of communities living around protected areas.
UWA has accordingly identified sacred sites as key cultural values in the Rwenzori Mountain National Park (RMNP) in western Uganda. The Rwenzori Mountains are referred to as a “sacred place” by the mountain people.
“Sacred sites achieve conservation goals through a stricter controlled access to natural resources through ridge leaders, as well as strong beliefs attached to them,” the UWA community conservation warden, Olivia Biira, observes.
Among the CVCP achievements are, increased cultural tourism through visiting cultural sites; and UWA has with the help of the local communities managed to control illegal activities in the park through patrols, collecting snares and providing reports on illegal activities, among others.
CCFU observes that the more positive understanding of culture in development that is emerging has been accompanied by a recognition that culture is a vital ingredient of effective and equitable change.
‘Development’ is then understood, not only in terms of material well-being, but also in terms of human capacity and potential. Culture becomes an end in itself – offering something to express, inspire and symbolise collective memory identity and aspiration.
CCFU says it has been driven by the belief that development outcomes will only be truly sustainable on the African continent if they are in tune with the cultural identity and ambitions of its peoples.
CCFU views development both in terms of material well-being, and also in terms of human capacity and potential, such a cultural approach places culture in a constructive light, as essential for genuine social and economic transformation, without disregarding, of course, any of its negative, retrogressive aspects.
“These, we believe, need to be understood and adapted to achieve positive change. This guide is the product of such a perspective,” the CCFU director Emily Drani says.