In a first for Africa, the Memory of the World (MoW) Secretariat brought together some 100 experts from 27 African countries to discuss ways of forging partnerships for the implementation of the Recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage including in digital form.
Held from 25 to 27 June in Abuja, Nigeria, the consultation participants heard from several high-profile African and international experts drawn from libraries, museums, and archives as well as educational and research organizations.
In his keynote speech, Prof. Folarin Shyllon, president of the Nigerian MoW Committee, highlighted the key historical moments through which the MoW Programme had evolved, concluding that Africa’s rich documentary heritage was the least represented on the International Register of the MoW Programme.
Ms Deaconess Grace Isu Gekpe, Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, spoke of her real satisfaction at the opportunity accorded Nigeria to host this major regional consultation, affirming her country’s commitment to the MoW Programme as a vehicle for the continent’s shared cultural identity and development. She further undescored: “Lack of adequate documentation is part of the bane of Africa’s cultural development … I therefore consider this conference timely as a platform for experts, cultural and educational research institutes, government authorities and all stakeholders to carefully deliberate on the way forward for the implementation of the 2015 Recommendation.”
In introducing the theme of the consultation -- Documentary heritage for sustainable development -- Fackson Banda, the Programme Specialist responsible for the MoW Programme, Knowledge Societies Division of UNESCO, told the participants that UNESCO’s 2015 Recommendation offered opportunities for thinking about documentary heritage in terms of its contributions to the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainable development.
Other speakers included renowned Ghanaian photographer, James Barnor, who spoke via Skype from London, calling for enhanced efforts to digitize African heritage, including his own photographic collections that document various epochs of Africa’s colonial and post-colonial history.
Taking up Mr Barnor’s concern, Roukiatou Bâ, director of the Amadou Hampâte Bâ Foundation based in Côte d'Ivoire, spoke passionately about her father’s collection of manuscripts and her foundation’s attempts to digitize these for greater accessibility.
Representing the African Union Commission (AUC) was Kassim M. Khamis, who called for aligning the UNESCO Recommendation with Agenda 2063, arguing that there was need to link documentary heritage to national development plans.
The participants in the consultation adopted the “Abuja Action Plan for the Implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form.”
The action plan outlines action steps to be taken, at both the national and regional levels, by memory institutions and other stakeholders to enhance documentary heritage right through from identification, preservation, access, to policy and cooperation.
The meeting also mandated the remaining members of the Executive of the African Regional Committee for MoW (ARCMOW) to co-opt more members to begin active planning for a meeting of ARCMOW, with support from the UNESCO Field Offices represented at the meeting, including from Dakar, Harare and Nairobi.
In ending the gathering, Kehinde A. Ayotunde, Secretary-General of the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO, expressed appreciation for UNESCO’s effort and commitment to organize such a regional gathering on a scale never attempted before.