ABU DHABI, May 25, 2023 (WAM) – The United Arab Emirates, represented by the Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has announced the creation of a fund to support world heritage, document preservation and capacity building initiatives for multiple sites across Africa.
The fund will be launched in partnership with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) and the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF).
The announcement came during an event hosted by the African Group at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France, to coincide with Africa Day on May 25 and Africa Week.
The event was attended by Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth; Firmin Edouard Matoko, Deputy Director-General for Priority Africa and UNESCO External Relations; Souayibou Varissou, executive director of the African World Heritage Fund; and Valéry Freland, Executive Director of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH).
The event was also attended by ambassadors and permanent delegates to UNESCO, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth will represent the UAE and become a Platinum Partner of the African World Heritage Fund.
The African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) is an intergovernmental organization established in 2006 by the African Union and UNESCO to support the effective conservation and protection of cultural and natural heritage in Africa.
The main objective of the AWHF is to address the challenges African State Parties face in implementing the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, in particular the under-representation of African sites on the World Heritage List and the protection and management of these sites.
The UAE’s contribution is also aimed at building the capacity of local communities, and ALIPH, co-created by the UAE in 2017 in cooperation with France, will implement three projects in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia.
In a statement, Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said: “In the UAE, we are committed to preserving human heritage in all its forms and strengthening partnerships with international organizations active in this field, with 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, strengthens diversity, tolerance, coexistence and peace in societies.’
He stressed that work to preserve the heritage in Africa is particularly important due to the cultural importance of this continent and its vast civilizational heritage, which is an important part of the history and culture of humanity. Preserving these elements will enhance its great cultural heritage. Heritage conservation efforts can have a strong socio-economic impact and lead to sustainable development involving the local community, empowering its members and playing an active role with tangible benefits, and promoting tourism. He stressed that these are the holistic goals that the UAE projects will seek to achieve.
He continued: “With these efforts, we want to go beyond conservation and restoration projects and operations in Africa. We strive to make these projects sustainable and contribute to capacity building and job creation for the local community and to involve them in all these projects.”
He also emphasized that one of the most important reasons why the UAE decided to implement this project at this time is the impact of climate change on tangible and intangible heritage in Africa. The launch of the fund also coincides with the United Arab Emirates declaring 2023 the “Year of Sustainable Development” and the organization of the United Arab Emirates’ Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in November this year, an event that will include talks on climate change and their impact on culture and society.
The UAE has also previously implemented projects to support tangible and intangible heritage in Africa. In November 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Youth, through the National Commission for Education, Culture and Science of the United Arab Emirates, signed an agreement with the Islamic World Organization for the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ICESCO and UNESCO. In addition, in January 2023, the Ministry and the Arab League Education, Culture and Science Organization (ALECSO) signed an agreement to support Arab countries in Africa in submitting joint files for inclusion in the same list.
On this occasion, Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “UAE, in cooperation with esteemed organizations such as ALIPH and AWHF, are proud to announce the launch of a special fund that will protect and document priceless cultural heritage sites across Africa . Our vision embodies a determined determination to empower local communities, inspire innovation and create sustainable opportunities that will shape future generations. In this way, we not only strengthen the fabric of cultural identity, but also drive social and economic development, creating an environment of peaceful coexistence.”
He added: “The launch of this fund on Africa Day is of great cultural importance. It is a day that not only celebrates the vibrant African culture and spirit of Africa, but also marks the 60th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU). This convergence of historic milestones reinforces the importance of our joint 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-founder and world leader in the protection of cultural heritage – has been a champion of the Foundation’s mission since its inception some six years ago. The ambitious partnership we are entering into today with Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi and the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth is a strong endorsement of the country’s strong support for the new form of multilateralism that ALIPH represents – one that emphasizes concrete actions, tangible results and operational flexibility. Our joint efforts also shed key light on the absolute urgency of preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the African continent, while working to protect sites and monuments in Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the face of the dual threats of conflict and climate change.”
Souayibou Varissou said: “We are confident that with the support of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, we will be better able to serve the continent by ensuring the effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Africa. This includes capacity-building programmes, risk management and heritage tourism, and the invaluable support of the UAE Government will enhance our ability to make a long-term impact on African World Heritage listings and protect and manage these sites as an asset for the sustainable development of local communities. The continent still has opportunities to enhance its cultural and natural heritage. The work done by the African World Heritage Fund is carried out through various partnerships with governments, communities and their leaders, including youth.”
These projects will be implemented in cooperation with local governments, alongside local and international partners. One of the projects that will benefit from this initiative is the restoration of the Inventory of the National Cultural Heritage of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The renovation work for this project is carried out in two phases. The first phase has already been completed, awarded by ALIPH with the support of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
As part of the project, 29 specialists from relevant institutions in the DRC have been trained so far in the field of documentation and inventory. The start of the second stage of the project is scheduled for 2024.
A significant part of the funds will be allocated to the revitalization of one of the oldest surviving Sudanese mosques in Dongola, which has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
This project was carried out by the University of Warsaw together with the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archeology (PCMA) in cooperation with the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM).
Urgent restoration work on the Dongola Mosque began earlier this year and will take three years to complete, while the project also provides on-the-job training opportunities for Sudanese experts, creating 60 jobs for the city’s residents.
One of the most important projects under the current program will be the reconstruction of the Yemrehana Krestos Church in Ethiopia, which is considered one of the country’s most symbolic sites in the Amhara region. It includes a palace and a church from the 11th-12th centuries.