On 16 November 2015, at its Thirty-eighth Session, UNESCO General Conference proclaimed 5 May African World Heritage Day. The observance has been an opportunity for people around the world, and particularly Africans, to celebrate the continent’s invaluable cultural and heritage resources, which, however, need commitments and significant efforts to be protected.
The aims of UNESCO in establishing the African World Heritage Day have been to:
· Increase global awareness of African heritage—with a special focus on youth
· Enhance cooperation for its safeguarding on the local, regional and global level, and
· Spur both the continent's leaders and local communities to take the necessary steps to improve the protection and enhancement of their heritage.
For a long time, in fact, African local decisionmakers and communities have not been aware of the potential offered by the cultural property and biodiversity that abounds in their continent, thus paying little attention to this unique richness.
UNESCO, therefore, took the lead in drawing on the vast potential of Africa’s cultural and natural heritage as a force for poverty reduction and social cohesion, and an enabler to sustainable development and innovation.
"Heritage, in all its forms, testifies to the human experience and aspirations. As a shared experience, it strengthens cultural identity while highlighting the differences and peculiarities of others. African heritage offers a unique opportunity to the sons and daughters of Africa and to young people to discover themselves. It makes them more aware and ensures an intergenerational sense of belonging and ownership of the African world heritage, underscoring its potential as a source of creativity and socioeconomic development, and promotes the status of men and women promoters of heritage in our societies."
While African properties account for only approximately 12 per cent of all sites inscribed in the World Heritage List, a much higher figure—39 per cent—of these properties are on the World Heritage List in Danger. Faced with threats such as climate change, poaching, civil unrest and instability, many of Africa’s wonders risk losing their outstanding universal value. It is, therefore, urgent that this heritage be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
This is the sense of this observance. UNESCO-TWAS has a special connection to Africa, in line with its mission is to enhance scientific capacity where support is needed. UNESCO-TWAS endeavours, therefore, though designed for the scientific community, naturally flow into the broader objectives of UNESCO itself: improving lives, whether through the protection of cultural heritage or through scientific capacity-building in developing countries.
Join us to walk a little closer to achieving such goals, and happy African World Heritage Day 2022!
Raffaella De Lia