Regional Workshop: Preservation and Accessibility of Documentary Heritage for Sustainable Development in Central Africa
UNESCO, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) are organizing a regional workshop on the preservation and accessibility of the documentary heritage from 21 to 23 November 2018 for sustainable development in Central Africa.
In general, the centrality of the document in all areas of life is well established. Whether for the purpose of memory, or to facilitate understanding of the present, or to inspire innovation, documentary heritage is an unparalleled resource whose preservation for future generations is a significant sustainable development issue.
Because of their fragility, the documentary heritage is exposed to many risks, including the ravages of time, natural disasters, human activities, technological obsolescence, and so on. Without real will and political action to ensure the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage, it is almost impossible to guarantee the long-term protection of collections and documents that are valuable to humanity.
In several Central African countries, the preservation, accessibility and enhancement of the documentary heritage have hitherto been one of the priorities for development. Here, the context is mainly characterized by the absence of identification of documentary heritage elements; a preservation exercise that is in many cases similar to random storage or stacking under inappropriate conditions; unsuitable access conditions; an ever-increasing number of documents whose deterioration continues inexorably; lack of a policy or strategy for the preservation of the documentary heritage; a mismatch between available resources and needs; a very low level of investment; etc. Even if the specific data are not known, there is no doubt that, in such a context, the magnitude of the losses for humanity of the documentary heritage elements of the countries of Central Africa is enormous.
Another indicator of the lack of consideration given to the valorization of the documentary heritage by the countries of Central Africa is the number of documents registered in the Memory of the World Register. With the exception of Angola, no other country in Central Africa has an element inscribed on the International Register of Memory of the World. However, such an inscription contributes to the valorisation of both the registered element, the institution and the country that preserves it.
The rapid expansion and integration of information and communication technologies at various levels of society has not helped matters.
In fact, preservation structures, where they exist, do not always have the necessary skills, much less the infrastructure needed to preserve digital documents. As a result, the risk of loss to humanity of digital documents is even greater for Central African countries.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that if nothing is done, future generations of Central African countries will not be able to benefit from or access entire areas of the memory of their country. Already, for many historical documents, even in the very recent history of the countries of Central Africa, it is to the libraries, archives (especially audio-visual) and documentation centers located in the European countries that it is necessary to go for the find easily enough.
In 2015, UNESCO adopted a Recommendation Concerning the Preservation and Accessibility of the Documentary Heritage in the Digital Age, which includes concrete proposals for States to identify, preserve and enhance heritage. documentary, as well as training and capacity development, as well as partnership mechanisms. The majority of Central African countries have not yet adopted these recommendations.
Some countries, including the Congo, Gabon and São Tomé e Principe, have in recent years undertaken reforms to improve the framework for the preservation of their heritage in general. In the Congo, the country plans to revise the 2010 Heritage Law to include documentary heritage; in Gabon, two draft laws, one on the preservation of digital documents and the other on cultural and documentary heritage, have been prepared; São Tomé e Principe has set up a digitization unit of the Historical Archives of São Tomé and Principe. While these few initiatives can be considered as progress, the fact remains that they remain marginal in the region.
In terms of training and institutional capacity, existing training structures offer only basic training or specialization in a limited number of areas. At the institutional level, the existing structures are for the most part lagging behind in terms of technical and technological advances in the preservation and restoration of the documentary heritage. Digital and audiovisual documents are probably those for which existing structures have the least capacity for preservation.
The development of partnerships, a dimension of action that could have enabled countries in the region to pool their skills and resources in order to better preserve and enhance the documentary heritage, is not on the agenda. It is at this level that the action of ECCAS supported by its partners could have been the most relevant. An initiative of UNESCO, ECCAS and CERDOTOLA for institutional networking and harmonization of practices has not prospered significantly since its launch in Gabon in 2016.
In the area of gender mainstreaming, the field of documentary heritage preservation does not appear to have mainstreamed gender issues into its operational principles. The workshop will be an opportunity to launch the debate on the consideration of gender equity in the preservation of documentary heritage.