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Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Dialogue and Development

The 21st of May marked the day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development, a day which provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity. This celebration precedes Africa Day for our continent, and today we want to hear from you. What aspects of your culture are you proud of and what do you wish could change about your culture either politically, socially, religiously and/ or economically?



Yesterday the world celebrated the day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development, a day which provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to advance the four goals of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This is an important and exciting day for the African continent given the rich and diverse cultural aspects that define us as a people. Even more exciting is that we will be celebrating Africa Day this week.

Celebrating cultural diversity allows us to see how culture is a driving force of development, in respect to economic growth and as a fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life. The use of new information technologies has made us more aware of how diverse the globe is culturally and while this is something to celebrate, there are concerns over the lack of tolerance this has also attracted.

In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. The background of this celebration is very important for Africa:

Intercultural Dialogue


The UN reports that “equitable exchange and dialogue among civilisations, cultures and peoples, based on mutual understanding and respect and the equal dignity of all cultures is the essential prerequisite for constructing social cohesion, reconciliation among peoples and peace among nations.”

Imena Cultural Troupe (Rwanda) at Sauti za Busara 2017 Photo: Masoud Khamis/ Sauti za Busara (official)/Flickr

It is with this in mind that we look at how the root causes for conflict in most developing countries have a cultural dimension to them. In an academic article-Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries, Francis Stewart (2002) argues that conflicts, such as in the Sudan or the Congo, have been within states, although there is often considerable outside intervention, as in Afghanistan.  This is to say, people who fight together perceive themselves as belonging to a common culture (ethnic or religious), and part of the reason that they are fighting may be to maintain their cultural autonomy. The ability to overlook these cultural differences can have immense power to champion development by allowing people to fight against economic and social differences over cultural differences.

Interreligious Dialogue

UNESCO has an interreligious dialogue programme, which aims to promote dialogue among different religions, spiritual and humanistic traditions in a world where conflicts are increasingly associated with religious belonging. Africa has people with diverse religions which include Christianity, Islam, Traditional religion, Atheism and Hinduism among many others. Unfortunately, wars have been fought and continue to occur in the name of  faith.

Sudan – The whirling dervishes of Omdurman. Photo: retlaw snellac/Flickr

Religious tolerance is what we need as a continent to be able to live in harmony and peace. We should be able to respect the religious aspect of our lives as not only private and sacred but unique from one community to another. When this becomes acceptable, wars in the name of religion will cease.

Culture and Development

The UN posits that development is inseparable from culture. The major challenge is to convince political decision-makers and local, national and international social actors to integrating the principles of cultural diversity and the values of cultural pluralism into all public policies, mechanisms and practices, particularly through public/private partnerships. The inclusion of traditional leaders for example in the fight against child marriage is a sign of how much we can develop as a continent if we do not ignore the cultural aspect of our livelihoods. In sub-Saharan Africa, about one in four girls marry before age 18 and data shows that African nations account for 17 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally. When we look at it, success in this fight will mean better education and health for girls thereby improving development.


Conclusively, a message from the Director General for the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) Irina Bokova says: “Building on human rights, UNESCO believes that our differences and diversity make us stronger and that respect for cultural diversity is essential for fostering intercultural dialogue, sustainable development and peace. As we work together to make the 2030 Agenda a reality – and to counter the threats to our cultural diversity – let us be guided by the spirit of this day, knowing that by embracing our cultural diversity, we can weave a brighter “garment of destiny” for us all.”