African World Heritage Day 2022
Message from Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of African World Heritage Day 5 May 2022.
Fifty years ago, the States Members of UNESCO met to adopt the World Heritage Convention, which to this day remains the cornerstone of international cultural cooperation.
In 1978, this essential instrument finally became operational when the first 12 sites were inscribed on the World Heritage List. They included three African sites, which means that fully one quarter of the original sites selected were in Africa.
Today, however, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only approximately one tenth of the sites inscribed. African heritage, whose exceptional value we celebrate today, is not yet recognized in accordance with its true historic, human and natural importance.
To address this situation, to accord the respect rightly due to the human genius and works of nature found in Africa, UNESCO has made the continent the focus of its World Heritage strategy. In brief, this requires us to rethink how we implement the Convention in order to deal with the challenges it will face over the next 50 years – and in order, finally, to achieve the ideal of universality in uniqueness which is the very foundation of World Heritage.
It is precisely because of its profound uniqueness, its diversity and its richness that African heritage is universal and commands our attention.
Examples of this heritage include the eight Sudanese-style mosques in Côte d'Ivoire which were inscribed on the World Heritage List last year. Their earthen buttresses rise before the awestruck viewer, embodying the prosperity of the Mali Empire and the magnitude of the material and intellectual exchanges which flourished at the heart of the Sahara for centuries.
This heritage includes Ivindo National Park in Gabon, also inscribed last year, which provides refuge to the forest elephant, the slender-snouted crocodile and countless other endangered species which remind us all – wherever we may be – of the climate emergency facing the planet.
So that these sites can continue to enchant and enthral us, UNESCO will be intensifying the work it conduct with African States, experts and the local communities which are the sites' custodians.
In order for African sites, which account for nearly 40% of the endangered sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, to be better protected. In order for them to continue to serve as reference points throughout the next 50 years.
In order to better acknowledge this African heritage and to facilitate its enrichment of our world heritage, we will ensure that by 2025, all African States wishing to do so will have submitted at least one application for inclusion on the World Heritage List – with scientific and logistical assistance from the Organization.
On African World Heritage Day 2022, I therefore encourage you to discover these examples of our shared heritage and to participate in the celebrations being held throughout the world. And soon, at the African World Heritage Youth Forum, which the Kingdom of Morocco has generously offered to host, the new generation of defenders of African heritage will be able to meet and talk to one another.
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