China, Africa to strengthen cooperation in protecting world heritage

Photo taken on July 7, 2021, shows actresses performing Min Opera, national-level intangible cultural heritage of Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian province, at a waterside pavilion in Sanfangqixiang, a historic and cultural area in Fuzhou. (Photo by Xie Guiming/People’s Daily Online)

A five-year plan was preliminarily formed to boost capacity building for China and Africa regarding world heritage conservation and management at a side event of the ongoing 44th session of the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that kicked off on July 16 in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China’s Fujian province.


The plan is aimed at establishing platforms for more direct exchange of knowledge between Chinese and African experts and scholars in the field of world heritage as well as custodians of world heritage sites so that the two sides can intensify exchange and sharing of experience, jointly carry out capacity building activities, and elevate the level of world heritage protection and management together.


The side event, which took place on July 19 under the theme of “Capacity Building for World Heritage Conservation and Management–Towards Future Cooperation Between Africa and China”, was attended by more than 150 people, including officials from the UNESCO, representatives of international organizations, and Chinese and African experts and scholars.


Before formulating the five-year plan, participants in the event reviewed the fruits of cooperation between China and Africa in the field of world heritage since 2019, and discussed the current situation of capacity building concerning the conservation and management of world heritage in Africa and China.


As the home of the world-famous Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, the lofty Mount Kilimanjaro on savannas, and the amazing ancient stone towers of the Great Zimbabwe ruins shrouded in forests, Africa is a continent endowed with rich and colorful natural and cultural resources. However, due to multiple factors, including social and economic development, Africa has long lagged behind other regions of the world in applying for UNESCO World Heritage status, as well as the management and protection of its world heritage.


There are 12 countries in Africa that still don’t have any heritage recognized as world heritage by the UNESCO, and 22 of the 53 properties included on the List of World Heritage in danger by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO are located in Africa, according to Souayibou Varissou, executive director of the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF).


At the side event, Varissou called for increasing financial support for the AWHF to improve Africa’s capability to protect world heritage.


The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee tries to give priority to Africa in policy formulation, capacity building, international aid, and upstream procedures, in a bid to enhance the representativeness and improve the balance of world heritage, said Tian Xuejun, director of the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO and also chairman of the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee.


Upholding the idea of the China-Africa community with a shared future, China attaches great importance to its cooperation with Africa in protecting world heritage, held the UNESCO-Africa-China Forum on World Heritage Capacity Building and Cooperation, and supports efforts to carry out training in risk management and protection of world heritage for custodians of world heritage sites in African countries including Uganda, Benin, and Tanzania, Tian said.


Greater efforts need to be made and more strength pooled to put into practice UNESCO’s Global Priority Africa resolution, which demonstrates the status and role of African countries in the cause of world heritage protection, Tian stressed, adding that China will continue supporting African countries in protecting world heritage, assist with talent cultivation in developing countries, and carry out talent cultivation programs for world heritage protection.


Africa urgently needs to strengthen capacity building regarding application for UNESCO World Heritage status, and the management and monitoring of world heritage, said Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO World Heritage Center.


Rössler thanked China for its tremendous efforts to help protect world heritage in Africa through platforms of UNESCO, and is looking forward to more new results of the cooperation between China and Africa in world heritage protection.


World heritage in Africa is an integral and distinctive part of the world heritage system, said Lyu Zhou, director of the National Heritage Center of Tsinghua University as well as a professor of the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University.


World heritage in Africa is underrepresented on the existing UNESCO World Heritage List, which not only needs Africa to constantly enhance capacity building concerning application for UNESCO World Heritage status, but also requires the world to realize more deeply the uniqueness of Africa’s history and culture, Lyu said.


An identification and interpretation system that accords with the characteristics of Africa’s world heritage should be established to demonstrate the cultural value of the world heritage in Africa, Lyu added.


Muhammad Juma, chief of the Africa Unit of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, gave a systematic introduction to capacity building efforts in Africa at the side event, and pointed out that capacity building in the future should be oriented to the needs of management organizations of world heritage sites, people who work in the field of world heritage, stakeholders in relevant communities, and researchers of colleges, universities, and research institutes.


Juma also invited China to share its experience in applying for UNESCO World Heritage status and protection and management of world heritage.


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