East African Ministers joined UNESCO’s first virtual meeting of Ministers of Culture to discuss measures taken to address the impact of COVID-19 on the culture sector

On 22 April 2020, Ministers responsible for Culture from Comoros, Djibouti Ethiopia, Kenya and Mauritius joined over 100 Ministers from around the world to share, through a dialogue online, their remarks on the impact of the health crisis on the cultural sector, as well as on the responses being initiated within their respective policies frameworks.

As an extension of the Global Forum of Ministers of Culture organized by UNESCO on 19 November 2019 in Paris, France in which 120 Ministers called for stronger cultural policies for more sustainable societies, UNESCO invited the Ministers of Culture to participate in this first online debate to share their observations on the impact of the health crisis on the cultural sector, as well as on the measures being taken within their countries.

Approximately 350 participants around the world followed the live streaming of the meeting, which was available with English, French and Spanish interpretation. Five East African Ministers took the floor to share insights on the situation in the region.

During his intervention, H.E. Avinash TEELUCK, Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage of Mauritius shared his country’s experiences safeguarding the culture sector during current epidemic. Since Mauritius’ lockdown on 20 March, the government launched a special relief fund project for businesses, including a wage assistance scheme to support salaries of artists and other self-employed workers in the creative sector. A Covid-19 Solidarity Fund was also launched and the government is working on a post-COVID plan. The Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage is developing a virtual network of theatres, museums, and cultural heritage sites in Mauritius as well as a television programme featuring Mauritian creators, artists and performers. The Minister also mentioned the importance of improving the Status of the Artist in Mauritius.

Speaking on behalf of the honorable Minister H.E. Mr. Nourdine Ben AHMAD, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Youth, Employment, Labour, Training, Professional Integration, Sports, Arts and Culture, Mr. Soule MMADI shared information on the measures underway in Comoros to support the culture sector, which include organization of virtual consultation meetings for the finalization of Comoros National Periodic Report on implementation of the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions as well as convening a ResiliArt|Comoros national debate with artists to identify challenges and opportunities for the creative sector during the COVID-19 crisis—both of these exercises will inform the revision of Comoros National Culture Policy with UNESCO support. The Secretary General also informed participating Ministers of Comoros intention to continue preparations of the country’s first World Heritage nomination file for the “Historic Sultanats of Comoros” through virtual consultation meetings with UNESCO international experts until the time when physical meetings and workshops can take place. He called upon the international community to support Comoros in its efforts to prepare a successful nomination file. Lastly, Mr. MMADI informed participants that musicians in Comoros have participated in UNESCO’s #DontGoViral campaign to help raise awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures.

H.E. Mr. Moumin Hassan BARREH, Djibouti Minister of Muslim Affairs, Culture and Waqf Assets highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on artists’ livelihoods and on cultural tourism in the Republic of Djibouti. He shared information on national measures to assist artists with debt, providing monthly salaries as well as food assistance for artists and their families. His Ministry is promoting reading at home together with artistic creation, and is also focusing on increasing digital creation in Djibouti.

The Ethiopian Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sports, H.E. Dr Hirut KASSAW, noted the impact on cultural tourism in her country due to COVID-19 stating that there has been a decrease in visitors to historical, archaeological and cultural attractions in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. She underscored that restoration projects underway at UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Axum Obelisk and the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela have been halted, and all training programmes for community stakeholders and heritage experts in inventorying and mapping are currently on stand-by. The Ministry is looking into traditional medicine in Ethiopia that could be used to curb the pandemic and is also examining policy measures to put in place. She asked for UNESCO support in these endeavours.

Lastly, H.E. Dr. (Amb.) Amina C. MOHAMED, Cabinet Secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, presented an overview of main priority areas the Government of Kenya has been focusing on since the 27th of March when nation-wide prevention measures took effect. These include: cushioning the cultural and creative industries sector, especially for vulnerable artists and creators; safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by working with cultural experts and sharing works of art through virtual platforms; mobilizing artists and creators to support messaging about preventing COVID-19; offering financial support to enterprises (SME) for business relief, including income tax reductions, funds to support vulnerable groups, health care measures and loan services. The Government is looking towards digital media, including online and social media, for creation and access to creative works as part of their plan for recovery and resilience. They aim to increase the budget for culture, and as cultural institutions such as the National Museums of Kenya, are currently closed, they are reprogramming their budgets for conservation and maintenance needs.  They hope to strengthen the sector, and with the support of UNESCO, plan to carry out a survey of the arts and cultural heritage sector to galvanize the culture sector post COVID-19.

Over 100 Ministers responsible for Culture from all regions of the world shared their national contexts, current measures and plans to support artists and cultural heritage as we recover from this pandemic. Many examples shared could be reproduced in other countries, such as the “Stay home and read” initiative in Malaysia, which offers free access to an online library of national and international literature. Indonesia’s Culture Minister shared his country’s proposal for a “Cultural Archive for Humanity”, which includes artwork, texts and recordings that document the cultural transformation underway.  The Minister in India shared that her country was reaching out to the public for online suggestions for possible intangible cultural heritage elements to include in India’s national inventory.  Pakistan’s Minister said that they are organizing online concerts every night that are broadcast on national television and the internet.  Georgia’s Ministry for Culture is publishing a weekly calendar of online cultural events. The United Arab Emirates noted the urgent need for UNESCO to develop a manual to support Member States with the protection of intellectual property rights for the creative sector.  These and many other measures were shared during the global meeting to further strengthen synergies and collaboration among Ministries for Culture.