Building peace in the minds of men and women

African ministers concerned by the region’s World Heritage sites

Must countries choose between economic development and the safeguarding of heritage? This was the subject of the second annual Round Table of African Ministers organized by the African World Heritage Fund and UNESCO as part of the 37th World Heritage Committee session taking place in Phnom Penh (16 to 27 June).

Speakers at the event, alongside UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Sok An, and the President of African World Heritage Fund, Sibusio Xaba, included: Kenya’s Minister of Culture, Sport and Arts, Hassan Arero Wario; Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis S. Kagasheki; Cameroun’s Minister of Culture, Ama Tutu Muna; Cape Verde’s Minister of Culture, Mario Lucio Sousa; Mali’s Minister of Culture, Bruno Maiga; Enock Dayang Menwa, Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage Conservation of Chad; and Jerry Ekandjo, Namibia’s Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture.

Ms Bokova insisted that countries need not choose between heritage conservation and development.  “UNESCO is dedicated to showing that societies can have both, in fact, societies must have both, for balanced, inclusive and sustainable development.”

Established in 2006, the African World Heritage Fund is dedicated to capacity building in heritage protection and conservation in the region, notably through training. But underfunding limits the scope of actions undertaken.

We dispose of five million dollars, far less than the 25 million initially planned when the Fund was established, deplored the President of the African World Heritage Fund, Sibusio Xaba, calling on the countries of the regions to increase their contributions.

During the round table discussion, Namibia’s Youth and Culture Minister, Jerry Ekandjo, announced that his country would contribute one million Namibian dollars to the Fund. Cameroun’s Culture Minister also announced a contribution of 49,000 dollars.

Needs are enormous. Armed conflict, urbanization, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and natural threats, such as the melting icecap of Mount Kilimanjaro or the erosion of the banks of the Lake Chad, are as many challenges facing sites protected by the World Heritage Convention.

“We cannot stand by and watch, we must act and mobilize others to join us—this has been our goal in Mali, where UNESCO has spearheaded action to safeguard this country’s millenary heritage,” declared the Director-General of UNESCO.

Mali’s Culture Minister welcomed UNESCO’s decisive action to safeguard the treasures of his country’s heritage that came under attack by the armed forces that occupied Timbuktu and the north of Mali until the beginning of this year. The Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee for his part announced that Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, decided to build a primary school in the north of the country, as an act of solidarity with the people of Mali. The school is expected to be opened in the near future.

In early June, a UNESCO-led team of experts visited Timbuktu to assess damage to the fabled city’s cultural heritage. The aim of the mission was to take stock of the extent of damage to the city’s cultural heritage and map priority actions needed to restore, rebuilt and protect this hertiage. The experts’ findings will help finalize an Action Plan for Mali; a first step towards the reconstruction and safeguarding of this heritage, much of which figures on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.