Whose Heritage Matters: Mapping, Making and Mobilising in Kisumu, Kenya

The Whose Heritage Matters project was designed to understand whether, and if so how, cultural heritage could be mobilised to support more sustainable and just urban futures in Kisumu (Kenya) and Cape Town (South Africa).

Our goal was to co-produce the project with local partners through

  • mapping tangible and intangible cultural heritage meanings and values
  • enabling the making of cultural heritage through active interventions and
  • mobilising knowledge and partnerships to support local community organisations and actors in navigating contested values and uses for cultural heritage.

The collaboration underpinning the project was supported by the Mistra Urban Futures network which enabled researchers in the UK, South Africa and Kenya, working on the intersections between culture, justice and the city, to form and test partnerships.

Our action-oriented approach meant grounding the project in locally-produced understandings of critical challenges and opportunities to mobilise cultural heritage for sustainable futures.

This report tells the story of Whose Heritage Matters in Kisumu, Kenya.

Part 1 – LOCATING: We start by locating the project in the context of ongoing research and engagement by researchers at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST) within the cultural heritage landscape in Kisumu. This provides the rationale for the selection of sites of activity and partners. We describe the four cultural heritage sites where we focussed the work – Abindu, Dunga Beach, Kit Mikayi and Seme Kaila.

Part 2 – MAPPING: In Part 2 we map the diverse cultural heritage values held by different actors, and the policy and organisational terrain of cultural heritage in Kisumu. We discuss how plural values Inscription in the rocks at Abindu for cultural heritage can produce tensions and contradictions, resulting in uneasy accommodations between cultural heritage and sustainability goals at the local level.

Part 3 – MAKING: Part 3 highlights the role of community-based organisations (CBOs) in an active process of heritagization – the making of cultural heritage through ongoing negotiations around values, uses and strategies. We highlight the importance of CBOs as nodes in co-production partnerships, in bridging between national, county and local interests, and in ensuring community ownership of and empowerment through cultural heritage activities.

Part 4 – MOBILISING: In Part 4 we document the impact of COVID-19 on those living and working around these cultural heritage sites. By mobilising community researchers, the project was able to visibilise the deep impact on the livelihoods of those who depended on the sites for their economic, social and cultural wellbeing. This documentation was undertaken to enable the CBOs to mobilise collectively and engage with decision-makers in the production of post-COVID strategies.

Part 5 – LAST WORDS: Part 5 summarises the key implications and reflects on the value and impact of the project in Kisumu and beyond.