Africa Member States Reaffirms Commitment to Protect Underwater Cultural Heritage

The urgency to protect the underwater cultural heritage in Africa was underscored during an awareness-raising event, which was held at the beautiful historical city of Mombasa, Kenya and the idyllic location of Fort Jesus, World Heritage Site on 4 June 2022.

This event was held within the framework of the UNESCO Project on “Building Capacity and Raising Awareness of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa,” supported by the Government of Japan, and took place at the end of a 10-day training for 18 participants across 14 African countries namely Benin, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sudan, and Tanzania. It was attended by community leaders, government officials, civil society organizations, and stakeholders from Mombasa its environs.

While acknowledging the immense financial and technical support received from UNESCO and the Government of Japan, Mr. Stanvas Ongalo, Ag. Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya also highlighted the significance of holding the event at the Fort Jesus, and its contribution to the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

The event sensitized the stakeholders of the enormous opportunity and importance of protecting the underwater cultural heritage and developing sustainable tourism and blue economies. Threat to the Underwater Cultural Heritage such as treasure hunts, looting, commercial exploitation, environmental degradation, acidification or pollution, were also discussed.

The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage provides a roadmap for protecting this fragile and often undervalued heritage, which includes shipwrecks, aircrafts and sunken cities. Among the beneficiary countries, Nigeria, Namibia, Benin, Madagascar and Senegal have ratified this important Convention, and 19 countries in total across the continent. Therefore, the project on “Building Capacity and Raising Awareness of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa,” supported by the Government of Japan, is critical.

Through this project, UNESCO, together with its key partners; the National Museums of Kenya and Rising from the Depths Network, successfully concluded a 10-day workshop in Mombasa, with expert trainers and underwater and marine archaeologists. During the workshop, representatives from diverse African countries were trained on underwater cultural heritage research and protection. With support from their trainers, the trainees displayed a photo and graphics exhibition of the projects developed during the training, which was a continuation of the online engagement of June 2021 and were at hand to present and respond to questions paused by the audience.

To further build capacity and raise awareness for the underwater cultural heritage in Africa, the programme will launch a 12-minute short film to raise awareness among local communities, and 8 three-minute modules for training underwater archaeologists. The films will be distributed on UNESCO social media platforms, websites and museums across the continent.