By Edmond Moukala Director of African Department, UNESCO
What is the current situation of the African Sites listed by UNESCO?
Africa, the cradle of mankind, has incredible riches both culturally and naturally. 131 African sites are listed on the World Heritage List, of which 85 are cultural sites, 40 natural and 6 are Mixed. 53 of the 54 States of the African continent have ratified the 1972 Convention. Of these, 40 have successfully proposed the inclusion of their national sites in the World Heritage. However, the African continent remains under-represented on the World Heritage List (12%). The heritage list facing threats currently has 23 African properties, that is 42% of the total. Indeed, these sites face many challenges, such as armed conflicts, terrorism, poaching, and illicit trafficking, global warming and natural disasters, and uncontrolled urban expansion, unregulated tourism, and mineral and oil exploration.
The African World Heritage Fund, established in May 2006, provides financial and technical aid to African States for the safeguarding of their cultural and natural heritage. In order to promote African heritage, the General Conference of UNESCO proclaimed 5th of May as an African Heritage Day to raise awareness among local communities, especially young people, and to safeguard these valuable assets. Since the inception of the Fund and the establishment of the African Heritage Day, Africa has become conscious of sustainable development and the urgency of protecting the environment in the context of the 1972 Convention
How can the classification by Unesco contribute to the development of tourism in Africa?
African heritage is an opportunity for sustainable development and economic growth. Africa being one of UNESCO’s priorities, this previous effort has been to put the power of culture into that of sustainable development and of peace in a context of regional integration. The inscription of sites on the World Heritage List remains an important asset for tourism and sustainable development. The World Heritage label is a valuable opportunity for the visibility of these sites which may experience a renewed curiosity and increased visitor attendance. The inscription on the World Heritage List is an additional opportunity for reinforcing international recognition which on raising awareness of the importance of protecting the sites. The nomination of a site results in an increased effort to develop the territory, to enhance and safeguard the property hence generating a stable and sustainable economic dynamic. In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, UNESCO is developing, with this in mind, a Program on World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism, based on the dialogue and cooperation between the various players in order to promote tourism that respects classified sites.
How can new technologies contribute to the protection of African sites classified by UNESCO?
The Ngorongoro Declaration calls upon “African State Parties to exploit the opportunities offered by the new and emerging technologies to ensure the conservation and sustainable development of the World Heritage properties”.
New technologies can contribute to heritage conservation as through them, the collection, dissemination, and analysis of important data for the sites is feasible. Drones are equally an innovative tool for ecological monitoring and follow-up of sites. Today, visitors, through their smartphones, have become actors of this protection, by alerting managers directly and immediately in case of incidents or damage. Resources acquired by crowdfunding can be very useful in financing the protection of sites. Technologies are also a Channel to increase visitor awareness, in particular regarding the protection of sites and their outstanding universal value.
They are also an opportunity to facilitate access to isolated sites (By electronic means). New technologies are also useful for developing sustainable tourism which is respectful of the sites. Various projects based on new technologies have been developed for the protection of heritage. For example, a flagship project meant to integrate young people into the protection of Heritage through new technologies is the #Unite4Heritage campaign. Launched in 2015 by UNESCO to respond to the violent propaganda of extremists and the destruction of many sites in Mali, Libya, and more recently in Syria, this campaign is being followed today by 15 million people around the world.
Its strong presence on social networks is in an effort to involve young people in UNESCO’s actions. Another example is the Youth Heritage Experts initiative, which was established by following the Forum of Young Experts at Bonn in 2015. This platform for online reflection is an example of success and a source of inspiration for the broadcasting of UNESCO’s values and actions through the new communication and information technologies. These two tools are crucial for raising awareness about heritage protection. The technologies thus open up great opportunities for the development of tourism, its sustainable development and the protection of heritage sites.