Human Rights Education in Kenya – Bridging Universal Claims and Local Customs

Start date: 31 August, 2012 End date: 18 April, 2013 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A19212 Countries: Kenya Institutions: Aarhus University (AU), Denmark Grant recipient: Sine Rudfeld Total grant: 10,000 DKK


In spite of many violations of human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, the concept continues to be present in almost every arena of the global world. The concept, however, is much criticised, especially by Cultural Relativists who accuse it of having a Western bias and not applicable to all cultures in the world, thus not universal as otherwise claimed.
Following this criticism, the question is whether a global concept such as human rights is actually applicable to a local context. To analyse this, the specific, yet uncharted, area of human rights education (HRE) was chosen, as it is seen as an important part of developing human rights. By conducting a case study in Nairobi, Kenya, it was possible to investigate what happens when a global, in theory universal, concept such as HRE is applied to a local context, and what challenges might emerge in this meeting between universal concepts and local customs.
Mapping out the case, it became evident that the main actor of HRE in Kenya is civil society, thus facilitating a change from below, as the government has yet to catch up. As the analysis shows, the political life is one of three main areas posing a challenge to the development of human rights: Political life, sexuality, and culture in general. Because of the history of the political life in Kenya, the competencies of the administration have yet to evolve in the area of human rights, thus posing a challenge to the development of governmental human rights programmes. Likewise, the issue of culture, and especially the views of sexuality, is an obstacle to promoting human rights.
This leads to the question of whether human rights and culture can actually co-exist, and thus also of whether human rights can be considered universal at all. The fact that human rights as a concept seem to be here to stay leads to a proposal to focus on how human rights and culture can co-exist instead of whether they can. Looking at Kenya, the problem seems to be that the two concepts currently exist parallel to each other instead of taking each other into account. However, with a proper HRE programme, the awareness on human rights would increase. Without knowing the content of human rights, it is not only difficult to know what to fight for, but also for the process of peaceful co-existence of human rights and culture to begin. With the new constitution, Kenya seems to be on the right path.