What you need to know:
- The document presents a two-fold gap that tacitly recurs in most civic education engagements in Kenya.
- The report’s fourth guiding principle stresses promotion and preservation of indigenous languages.
- Language, therefore, acts as a tool for alienation rather than communication.
The fifth key point in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report is inclusivity in several spheres, among them cultural inclusion: “Promote and build trust in indigenous knowledge (systems) and cultural technologies embedded in traditions and practices, foods and medicines.”
Reading this excerpt on page 114 prompts one to wonder how many of our parents and grandparents understand these technical terms.
This, consequently, directs one to check whether there are copies of the BBI in any of the local languages. But a glance on their website shows none! Whether this is by design or another missed opportunity for inclusion is a question for another day.
The document presents a two-fold gap that tacitly recurs in most civic education engagements in Kenya. One is the assumption that all people will understand the technical English used in the document.
According to the World Bank, about 18 per cent of the population is illiterate. And a significant proportion of the remainder — more than 1.3 million of the seven million registered voters in 2017 — may not comprehend the technical terms in BBI.
Contrary to its calls for inclusion, this section of Kenyans is at the mercy of intermediaries to interpret the report for them. Since its release on Mashujaa Day, they have been excluded from accessing the information therein firsthand despite the fact that it will significantly influence their lives.
Secondly, the report’s fourth guiding principle stresses promotion and preservation of indigenous languages. But this is clearly missing, gauging from the fact that the report is only presented in English, which is a colonial language. There are neither versions of it in local languages, nor any sign of upcoming translations. Language, therefore, acts as a tool for alienation rather than communication.
This was a missed opportunity and a challenge as it gives much power to intermediaries, who are already manipulating these gaps to their advantage.
It further sharply contrasts with the guiding principles of the report. This is the case for most other civic and statutory documents meant for public awareness. Presenting versions with different languages and formats, including Braille and audios, would have expressed the inclusivity that the content of the report envisions.
BBI is a tool for civic engagement; it should align in terms of content and presentation. The BBI Task Force should immediately make versions of the report, translated in all Kenyan languages, available to the public free of charge and, through broadcasts over vernacular radio stations, ensure that everybody gets and understands the information firsthand so as to decide for themselves. That will help the excluded groups to make sense of the report.