Heritage of Alms – Sad Plight of Sub-Saharan States
Nairobi ˜ Underfunding and shortage of professionals are the main hurdles facing conservation of world heritage sites in sub-Saharan Africa, experts say.
Due to inadequate funding by the concerned countries, conservationists rely on external donors to implement projects such as conservation of natural, cultural, immovable, movable, tangible and intangible heritage on the continent.
The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property director general, Mounir Bouchnaki, said conservation of heritage sites will not be sustainable if African states continue relying on donor funds.
Dr Bouchnaki said conservation activities in many African countries will come to a halt if donors pull out.
“The major challenge we face is lack of adequate funds to conserving heritage sites. Many countries depend on external donors as their governments have not prioritised the protection of national heritage.
“It is sad that the authorities have not realised the importance of our cultures, which play a major part in spurring economic growth. Kenya, for instance, attracts many tourists due to its diverse cultures.”
Dr Bouchnaki said the continent has a shortage of professionals who could manage and conserve national heritage.
This, he added, was because African governments have not earmarked adequate funds to train conservationists. Instead, they have left the task to unqualified personnel.
“We need people with the knowledge to manage and preserve our cultural sites… some of which are in danger of being wiped off the map,” he said.
The director general said the continent lags behind in listing its heritage sites with Unesco, adding that only 60 of its sites are on the UN organisation’s roll.
By comparison, Italy has 42 sites — the largest number by a single country in the world.
Dr Bouchnaki, however, said the Africa 2009 group will forward more sites in the continent to Unesco for consideration.
Through the programme, he said, 300 professionals have been trained on maintenance and conservation, management planning, interpretation and promotion.
He was speaking at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort in Mombasa during an Africa 2009 programme directors’ seminar.
Participants were drawn from 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and representatives from the World Heritage Centre, Sweden and Norway.
National Museums of Kenya director general Idle Farah agreed that inadequate funding had affected conservation of world heritage sites in the country.
He said NMK relies heavily on donor support to implement conservation projects since funds from the government are inadequate.
“Conserving most of the projects that we undertake depends a lot on external funding. If donors withdraw their support, we will face many difficulties,” the NMK official said.
“The government should plough back more resources into protecting endangered World Heritage Sites such as Lamu, which is currently threatened by land grabbers,” he added.
The NMK boss said they had forwarded more sites to Unesco for possible enlistment since the country has only four World Heritage Sites.
Kenya has an acute shortage of professionals and is unable to effectively manage and conserve its national heritage.
The acting Commissioner of Uganda’s Department of Museums and Monuments, Rose Mwanja, said they receive very little funding from the government to conserve the country’s three listed heritage sites.
She said the government only earmarks funds for salaries and administrative issues, making the department rely on donors for support.
She thanked the embassies of America, France, Germany and Norway, as well as other foreign organisations like Unesco, for funding conservation projects.
Other problems affecting conservation efforts in Uganda include lack of trained staff and poverty — which has triggered large-scale sale of old buildings by locals to well-off foreigners in Old Kampala town.
“Our efforts to conserve historical buildings in the town have proved futile,” Ms Mwanja said.
She added that the department was creating public awareness to halt the sale of heritage sites.
Tanzania’s Head of Cultural Heritage Development, Digna Tillya, said inadequate funds have crippled efforts to conserve immovable cultural heritage sites in the country.
She said rehabilitating and restoring heritage sites was expensive, adding that the country had inadequate professionals.
Among the pending projects she cited were restoration of old buildings, walls, wells, ruins, tombs and other settlements.
“Employees conversant with cultural heritage development are very few,” she said.
She added that locals are yet to realise the importance of conserving immovable cultural heritage.
To overcome these shortcomings, the department would conduct fund-raising drives, she said.
The country would also train more personnel to assist in conservation.
“All stakeholders will be involved in these activities,” she said.
Representatives of the 30 sub-Saharan countries agreed to work together on personnel training, management and conservation of the continent’s heritage sites.
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