Diverse Traditional and Contemporary Rhythm, Music and Dance Rock the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

The pulsating beats of the Burundian drum, the rhythmic movements by Congolese and Turkana traditional dancers and the beautiful songs from diverse musicians rang through the Kakuma Refugee Camp during the UNESCO – Kakuma Sound Cultural Festival held on 16 – 17 July 2022, with the aim to fostering a sense of belonging, inclusion, resilience and peaceful coexistence amongst the over thirty refugee communities living in the Camp and the host communities which actively participated with over 3000 spectators and performers.

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights upholds that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. This fundamental human right principle is enshrined in the UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression (2005), which complement beautifully the scope and purpose of the UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and both of which underpin of the work of the Organization to make sure this right is fully respected and enjoyed.

The Kakuma Festival is therefore a great opportunity to celebrate cultural rights, through the colorful and energetic display of diverse cultures and arts of traditional instruments from the over twenty nationalities that compose the refugee populations in Kakuma, for harnessing, safeguarding and promoting the unique cultural diversity of over 200,000 inhabitants with musical heritage from South Sudan, Somalia, DR Congo, Ethiopia, just feature the more prominent.

This Festival also brings forward in a unique way the power of culture to lessen the inter and intra-communal tensions experienced at the camp, by celebrating and creating new solidarities, cementing new ways of mediating disputes while emphasizing unity in diversity and the openness to and acceptance of difference as a wealth. It featured performances from the Oromo, Congolese and Burundian bands, the Latjur and Bieh cultural dance groups, Lokuto and Duk cultural dances, Evo and Garukira groups, choli cultural dances and the Dinka bar-el-Gazal cultural group. Kakuma Sound All-Star Band (KSB) in collaboration with Kenya’s renown musician and icon, Eric Wainaina delivered their first ever performance, leading to a joint rendition of a new song called ‘Africa ’ and that will be recorded and released before the end of the year.

REF FM, a local community radio station, and other national and international media stations such as Citizen Radio, Radio Maisha, KBC, BBC Swahili, K24TV, KBC TV, and The National (Congo) TV, among others, covered the festival and echoed this celebration of the diversity of the Kakuma Refugee Camp.

The UNESCO-Kakuma Sounds Project was officially launched during this festival and was the opportunity for the presentation and handing over to the refugee communities of equipment procured by the project, including traditional music instruments, recording studio equipment and new audio and camera to support the capacity building and music training of members, as well as the development of a well-run and functioning studio center.

The UNESCO-Kakuma Sound Project is implemented within the framework of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and aims to demonstrate how intangible cultural heritage in various domains is central to safeguarding the refugees’ communities’ collective memory, identity, and resilience. Additionally, the project aligns with the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), recognizing and promoting the role of cultural expressions in a challenging context such as the Kakuma Refugee Camp. It affirms that cultural expressions provide refugees with a creative space to explore and share their identities, values and cultures, and expand their capacity to build resilience beyond their condition of refugees.

The Second Edition of the Kakuma Sound Cultural Festival will be held at the end of this year, following a series of ICH workshops and training on the use of traditional instruments. The festival and the ongoing UNESCO Kakuma Sound Project will expand the inter-agency and institutional collaborations with the aim of promoting the role of music and dance in contributing to a positive narrative for Kakuma Refugee Camp, which will further enhance dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance for a peaceful, resilient and sustainable communities.


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