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Modern Heritage of Africa: Towards an enhanced representation of the African continent on the World Heritage List

Friday, 15 July 2022 at 11:00
access_time 3 min read

On 27 -28 June 2022, UNESCO's World Heritage Centre organized an experts meeting on Modern Heritage of Africa and the 1972 World Heritage Convention, with the aim to integrate the modern heritage concept into World Heritage in the African context and provide a new conceptual understanding from an African perspective. It builds upon the work already done in the Centre regarding Modern Heritage Programme, UNESCO 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation and  follows the initiative coordinated by the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) and its partners which led to the "Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage" as a result of the first symposium of the Modern Heritage of Africa (MoHoA) initiative organized by the University of Cape Town in September 2021 and sought to assess its application in the context of the 1972 Convention in Africa.

Being within the UNESCO Global Priority Africa, that seeks to offers support to African States Parties to enhance the representativity of the continent on the World Heritage List, this meeting saw the participation of about 30 experts from Africa and other regions. It began with some interesting opening remarks from Mr. Souayibou Varissou, Executive Director of the African World Heritage Fund, Mrs Nouzha Alaoui, Secretary-General of the Foundation for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Rabat (Morocco),  and Mrs Jyoti Hosagrahar, Deputy Director of World Heritage at UNESCO, who expressed that:

“This meeting also aims at defining a methodology to identify Modern Heritage of Africa and developing clear guidance on how to approach this heritage for the use of States Parties to update and harmonize their tentative lists and to agree on a concrete roadmap for enhanced representation of Modern heritage of Africa on the World Heritage List.”

Ms Véronique Roger-Lacan, Mr Hans Carel Wesseling, respectively Ambassadors of France and the Netherlands to UNESCO, both expressed their commitment to support UNESCO in the implementation of the 1972 World Heritage Convention and its effort to achieve this objective for “a more diverse list both in theme and in regional representation”.

The two-days meeting was divided in different sessions in which presentations were given on a variety of topics and different case studies that can help create the framework for a reconceptualization of “the modern” that can be untethered from its Eurocentric, colonial or one-sided universalising origins, and help pave the way to an equitable and sustainable future, as stressed by Dr Shahid Vawda, from the University of Cape Town, in discussing the concepts of Heritage and Modernity.

The three presented case studies of different sites, namely Asmara (Eritrea), Rabat (Morocco) and the transnational serial property of The Architectural work of Le Corbusier,  that were inscribed over the past 10 years on the World Heritage List as modern heritage, illustrated the various challenges and opportunities that these sites faced in the nomination process with a view to identifying and extracting the common selection criteria related to modern heritage applied to the African context.  

The meeting unfolded to discussion sessions, where experts voiced out their observations of the term Modernism as a global concept to be adapted in the context of the Africa Region, taking into consideration the meanings and the value that African communities within the sites, including indigenous people, have attached to it. Recognizing these complexities, Mrs Laura Robinson from ICOMOS emphasised that, “with a good will and dialogue we can get very good results within the inscription process”.

Within the efforts of defining the next steps and tasks to be undertaken, the meeting concluded with the development of a roadmap that will lead to the fulfilling of the objective of achieving a better representation of Modern Heritage of Africa on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Friday, 15 July 2022 at 11:00
access_time 3 min read