Irina Bokova speaks Out for Africa’s heritage


On the second day of her participation in the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee, in Doha (Qatar), the Director-General addressed the third round table of African ministers on world heritage.

More than seven ministers in charge of world heritage in Africa met to discuss heritage policies and best practices, with emphasis on the ways by which culture is a springboard for economic and social development.

Botswana described how world heritage sites are used to mobilize local communities. South Africa gave examples of its sites in reviewing the sustainable management of resources. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda spoke of the World Heritage Convention-based transboundary cooperation project under which three world heritage sites, two biosphere reserves and other protected sites would operate as a network.

“I wish to thank all Ministers for their contribution -- this meeting shows we have a shared vision of the role of culture in sustainable development. We may miss a historic opportunity if we do not integrate culture and heritage into poverty reduction, because extreme poverty cannot be eradicated if culture, in the broad sense, and its impact on social cohesion, employment and resource management are not taken into account.  Together with African States, this is the message we are sending.”

The Minister of Culture of Senegal stressed the need for Africa’s cultural wealth to be better represented in the World Heritage List and, likewise, African States on the Committee -- pointing to the need to boost skills development and the protection of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger, more than one third of which were situated in Africa. The Minister made a vibrant appeal for the safeguarding of the island Gorée, endangered by coastal erosion.

The representative of Mali thanked UNESCO and its partners for rallying to save Timbuktu and other heritage sites in Mali.

“The mausoleums were primarily places of worship but, after the crisis and the international and media mobilization, the people realize, better now than before, that they hold unique treasures and pay greater attention to those sites than in the past. There is no agriculture in Timbuktu. The only industry there is tourism and, by developing culture, we can tackle poverty head-on.”

The Director-General portrayed UNESCO’s work in Mali as an example of its unwavering commitment to culture.

“Mali was a genuine test, a test for us and for all Africa, for the repercussions have been felt well beyond Mali and are important to peace and development throughout the continent.”

In addition, the Director-General welcomed the joint inclusion, by six Latin American States, of the Qhapaq Ñan/Inca Highway in the UNESCO World Heritage List. She stressed the importance of such a transboundary inclusion to enhance the founding principle of the Convention, which was designed to build peace through cultural cooperation.

“Qhapac Ñan is a symbol of the strength and dynamism of the Convention. It shows us the extent to which the initial ‘world heritage’ concept has broadened constantly, changing with the times, from the protection of monuments at first, to the protection of cultural landscapes and transboundary sites and now to sites beyond borders, continent-wide. The boundaries of intellectual cooperation are being pushed outwards, and that, for us, is a boundless source of encouragement”, she stressed.