When we use the word culture, what does it convey to us? Traditions and customs come closer to our perceptions.
The Oxford Dictionary defines culture as “the quality of enlightenment and refinement arising from an acquaintance with and concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, the sum total of the ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another”.
Thus a person can be described as being cultured or uncultured.
Culture is one of the main pillars of development and sustenance of communities and no society can progress in its absence. It is the identity where common values, attitudes, preferences, knowledge are attributed to the behaviour in a particular social group, and has a positive influence on social development in any given country.
Traditional celebrations are some of the core aspects of any culture. Whether it is a wedding, a harvest festival, a religious holiday, or a national observance, our celebrations are woven tightly into our overall cultural identity. Celebrating our traditions offers an excellent opportunity for intercultural exchange and understanding.
The undertakings contribute to an increase in the intellectual potential and build conscious, open and tolerant society.
Last week, Rwanda celebrated the annual national harvest day, locally known as Umuganura, the first-fruit festival which is one of Rwanda’s ancient royal rituals. The event went along with one of the biggest unrivalled biennial African dance festival, Pan-African Dance Festival (FESFAD).
The events took five days celebrating Africa’s unique cultures under the theme “Culture, the cornerstone of development”. A number of countries participated showcasing their rich cultural dances alongside Rwandan famous cultural dance troupes.
Cultural events are fun, entertaining and educative. They allow individuals to integrate physically and mentally. It has been noted at many levels of society that a dynamic cultural sector is a requirement for a well-functioning public sphere with arenas for critical debate and the exchange of ideas.
Identity expressed through culture is a necessity for all human development. It creates the fundamental building blocks in our personality and in the ties that link us to communities and nations.
The quality of our lives depends, to a great extent, on our being able to take part in, and benefit from our culture. We instinctively know, with no need for explanation, that maintaining a connection with the unique character of our historic and natural environment, with the language, the music, the arts and the literature, which accompanied us throughout our life, is fundamental for our unity by providing a sense of who we are.
There is an intrinsic value of culture to a society, irrespective of its place in the human development index, which is apparent to everyone and which makes it a prerequisite consideration for any development.
A growing number of authors also seem to agree that economic growth will take more than an infusion of investment capital, more than an import of the latest technology, even more than dependable political and economic institutions. A constellation of cultural values suited for modern business seems to be a critical ingredient for any progression.
Culture is a powerful driver for development, with community-wide social, economic and environmental impacts. Peoples’ lifestyles, individual behaviour, consumption patterns, values related to environmental stewardship and our interaction with the natural environment are mostly influenced by their cultures.
If development can be regarded as the enhancement of our living standards then efforts geared to development cannot ignore culture. Interventions that are responsive to the cultural context and the particularities of a place and community, and advance a human-centered approach to development, are most effective, and likely to yield sustainable, inclusive and equitable outcomes.
The role of culture in creating green jobs, reducing poverty, making cities more sustainable, providing safe access to water and food, preserving the natural resources such as forests, and strengthening the resilience of communities in the face of disasters, is truly major and irreplaceable.
Politically, culture plays a natural part in a development policy that is serious about human rights. A free and strong cultural sector will promote other rights and values such as freedom of expression, diversity and debate about needs in society. Culture ensures unity during crisis, influences identity, debate and dialogue. It is important for nation building and for peace and reconciliation.
Culture lays essential foundation for other political rights and is equally important in the link between the ancient and modern democratisation. The modern democracy that we have is an extension of what our forefathers or rulers established. The whole process of organisation of states during and after the colonialism would have been easy were it not for prior existing structures.
Rwanda is one of the countries on planet earth that have great cultural attributions. It is needless to say that our tremendous efforts and achievements to date have been greatly influenced by the culture of kindness, hard work, self determination, unity, common purpose as well as our arts, music and firm traditional values.
These have been absolute pillars of our solidarity and development. As the late Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammerskjold, once said, “If we go to the root of the matter, it is our concept of death that decides our answers to all the questions which life poses”.