UAE to fund world heritage restoration projects in Africa
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UAE to fund world heritage restoration, rehabilitation projects in Africa

UAE to fund world heritage restoration, rehabilitation projects in Africa

These projects will be implemented in cooperation with local governments, alongside local and international partners

Gulf Business
UAE announces fund to support restoration of heritage projects in Africa Photo credit WAM

The UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced a fund to support world heritage, document conservation and capacity-building initiatives at a number of sites across Africa.

The announcement was made at an event held by the Africa Group at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, coinciding with Africa Day celebrations on May 25 and Africa Week.

The fund will be launched in collaboration with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) and the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF), reported the state news agency, WAM.

The Ministry of Culture and Youth will represent the UAE, and become a Platinum Partner of the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF).

The AWHF, an intergovernmental organisation created in 2006 by the African Union and UNESCO, supports the effective conservation and protection of cultural and natural heritage in Africa.

It also addresses challenges faced by African States Parties in the implementation of the UNESCO 1972 World Heritage Convention, specifically, the underrepresentation of African sites on the World Heritage List and the conservation and management of these sites.

The UAE’s contributions also aim to build the capacities of local communities, while ALIPH, which the UAE co-founded in 2017 in collaboration with France, will implement three projects in Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia.

UAE committed to conserving heritage

In a statement, Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said, “In the UAE, we are committed to conserving human heritage in all its forms, and strengthening partnerships with international organisations actively working in this field, out of our belief in the importance of preserving this heritage for future generations, and the role it plays. Heritage plays a significant role in intercultural dialogue, it enhances diversity, tolerance, coexistence and peace in societies.”

He stated, “Through these efforts, we are keen to go beyond conservation and restoration projects and operations in Africa. We seek to make these projects sustainable and contribute to capacity development and to create job opportunities for the local community, and to involve them in all of these projects.”

The launch of the fund also coincides with the UAE’s declaration of 2023 as the ‘Year of Sustainability’, and the country’s hosting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in November of this year, an event which will include talks on climate change and its impact on culture and society.

In November last year, the Ministry of Culture and Youth, through the UAE’s National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, signed an agreement with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to inscribe African heritage games on the Representative Lists of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of ICESCO and UNESCO. In addition, in January, the Ministry and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO), signed an agreement to support Arab countries in Africa to submit joint files for inscription on the same list.

Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The launch of this fund on Africa Day has tremendous cultural significance. It is a day that not only commemorates vibrant African culture and the spirit of Africa but also signifies the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union. This convergence of historical milestones amplifies the importance of our collective efforts to preserve and celebrate Africa’s rich heritage.”

Dr Thomas Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Directors of the ALIPH Foundation, said, “The United Arab Emirates — our co-founding member and a global leader in the protection of cultural heritage — has been a champion of the Foundation’s mission since its very beginnings some six years ago.  Our joint efforts also shine a crucial spotlight on the absolute urgency to safeguard the African continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, while leading the charge to protect sites and monuments in Sudan, Ethiopia, and the DRC in the face of the dual threats of conflict and climate change.”

Souayibou Varissou, executive director of the African World Heritage Fund, said, “We are confident that with the support by the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the UAE, we will be able to better serve the continent in ensuring effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Africa. This includes capacity building programmes, risk management and heritage tourism and the invaluable support from the UAE will boost our capability to make long-term impact about the inscription of African sites on the World Heritage List and the conservation and management of those sites as an asset for the sustainable growth of local communities.”

Projects in Africa

These projects will be implemented in cooperation with local governments, alongside local and international partners. One of the projects that will benefit from the initiative is the restoration of the National Cultural Heritage Inventory of DRC.

The restoration work on this project is being carried out in two phases. The first phase has already been completed granted by ALIPH with the support of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, reported WAM.

The project has so far trained 29 specialists from relevant institutions in DRC in the field of documentation and inventory preparation. The second phase of the project is scheduled to begin in 2024.

A significant part of the fund will be allocated to revitalise one of the oldest preserved Sudanese mosques at Dongola, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

This project has been undertaken by the University of Warsaw along with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA) in partnership with the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums.

Conservation work on the Dongola Mosque began early this year and will go on for three years, with the project also providing on-the-job training opportunities for Sudanese experts, creating 60 jobs in the process for city residents.

One of the most significant projects under the current programme will be the restoration of the Yemrehana Krestos Church in Ethiopia, which is considered one of the most symbolic sites in the country in the Amhara region. It encompasses a palace and a church dating back to the 11th-12th centuries.

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