Abuja, 20 November 2013: Delegates to the first African Regional Meeting on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State in Nigeria on 11-12 November 2013 have called on African countries to quickly ratify the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage. The regional meeting was organized by the UNESCO office in Abuja in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.
The meeting, which had representatives from 12 African countries, called on the six countries in Africa that had ratified to adapt their national laws to reflect the provisions of the 2001 Convention. In the Plan of Action issued at the end of the two-day meeting, the delegates also welcomed the decision of Nigeria to establish an underwater cultural heritage center in Yenagoa which will provide support to the region in capacity building and other services to enable African countries better protect their underwater cultural heritage.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony for the Regional Meeting, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation of the Nigeria, Chief Edem Duke, expressed concern that in spite of a rich history of water activities, very few African countries have so far ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention. He made a call to the countries of Africa to make use of the Convention “I hereby call on all African countries, including the landlocked countries, to not only ratify the Convention but to also emplace strong implementation framework in order to become active players in this common heritage of mankind,” the Minister said, adding that “In this way, we will be able to combat illicit activities that are common threats to our commonality of interest since underwater cultural heritage is a chain of human and material forces that traverse and flow through our common humanity and geographical boundaries.” He expressed gratitude to UNESCO and the Bayelsa State Government for organizing the Meeting.
The Director of the UNESCO Regional Office in Abuja, Professor Hassana Alidou, in a message for the meeting emphasized the importance of protecting and preserving Africa’s underwater cultural heritage. “Almost everywhere in the world, in rivers, lakes or seas lie testimonies of the past. They contain a high potential of information about the development of humanity and the lives of our ancestors in submerged archaeological sites,” she observed, adding that “submerged archaeological sites under water are still largely unprotected and in many parts of the world are victims of pillage and destruction with the subsequent introduction of commercially valuable artifacts to the market of cultural heritage.”
Prof. Alidou, therefore, called on African countries to ratify the UNESCO 2001 Convention and “work together to continue building the capacities needed to protect this heritage and to generalize the observance of the scientific and ethical principles included in the Convention and its annex.”
Experts on underwater archeology and research made presentations on their experiences working around the world and explained to participants the importance of preserving the underwater cultural heritage and the provisions of the 2001 Convention. Delegates came from: The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Nigeria. They agreed to hold the next meeting in Kenya.