Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Africa’s heritage dazzles the world at UNESCO event

The first in-person meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in four years has seen African heritage celebrate a notable success. Five new sites located across Sub-Saharan Africa were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and two were extended following a rigorous evaluation process at the extended 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

This celebration of cultural and natural heritage showcases the largest number of inscriptions from Africa in a single World Heritage Committee session since 1982, matched by 2006.

From some of the most ecologically significant rainforests in the world in Nyungwe, Rwanda, to the alpine moorlands of the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia – the rich history and biodiversity of the continent is on full display.

Sub-Saharan Africa now has 112 sites on the World Heritage List, out of a total of 1,199.

The host country recognizing the heritage of Africa, and the monumental work by the stewards of these sites – the teams from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Benin, Togo, Congo, and Madagascar worked to achieve these esteemed designations. We understand the planning and research that goes into a successful inscription on the World Heritage List.

The UNESCO gathering reminds every nation that culture and heritage unite, shape, and define us. They form the backbone of identity and provide a point of focus we can gather around.

Of course, some aspects of culture, such as a great monument, can be more easily preserved than other, less tangible, aspects such as language and folklore. This is why a comprehensive approach to protecting culture and heritage requires accurate preservation of tangible and intangible cultural assets.

New technologies, such as the Saudi-funded UNESCO Dive Into Heritage platform, can support documentation and improve access to heritage data, but they also require significant investment and capacity building. Governments should partner with bodies such as UNESCO in initiatives such as the Dive Into Heritage to promote culture and heritage protection in Africa.

Saudi Arabia has expanded its partnership with UNESCO over US$ 10 million will be provided across three years in the framework of the Fund-in-Trust Agreement signed in January 2020 between UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In Africa, four of these projects align with UNESCO’s Priority Africa vision, aimed at fostering peace and sustainable development across the continent through culture, education and science.

These projects involve creating sustainable heritage ecosystems for economic development, protecting intangible cultural heritage, and supporting measures against illicit trafficking of cultural property. The funding also allows UNESCO to respond to the needs expressed and opportunities identified by its Member States in heritage safeguarding, including capacity building.

These projects will cultivate sustainable development in Africa and also contribute to the long history of Saudi-African relations, which are deeply rooted due to the geographic proximity of the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent.

Cultural and civilizational ties have been characterized by profound knowledge exchange and are well documented. These relationships have grown over recent years, indicating the depth of ties, cooperation and the importance of these relations and common interests.

The positive results from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee reiterate the optimism in Saudi-African relations. This is of particular importance as we look ahead to Saudi-African Summit at the end of 2023 in Riyadh.

African-Saudi relations have a bright future ahead. The Saudi Vision 2030 anticipates continued cooperation, investment, trade, cultural and heritage partnerships between the African continent and Saudi Arabia. We look forward to celebrating many more successes together.

The seven sites located in Africa that were approved at the 45th UNESCO World Heritage Committee are:

• The Gedeo Cultural Landscape, Ethiopia

• Andrefana Dry Forests (site extension], Madagascar

• Forest Massif of Odzala-Kokoua, Congo

• Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

• Memorial sites of the Genocide: Nyamata, Murambi, Gisozi and Bisesero, Rwanda

• Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

• Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba (site extension], Benin and Togo

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