Kenya increases safety protocols to re-open museums and heritage sites

The National Museums of Kenya has increased its safety protocols in order to reopen its public spaces in all 24 museums and 370 protected historical sites across the country, which were closed on 16 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the years, Kenya’s museums and sites have opened their doors to diverse visitors including education groups, tourists, families, academics as well as arts and culture enthusiasts. However, throughout the partial lock-down declared by H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta on 13 March 2020, the museums’ public facilities were closed to visitors, while most staff members have been working remotely.

The National Museums has now instituted safety re-opening protocols, based on national measures as well as guidelines from the International Council of Museums (ICOM), an international organization that establishes guidelines, best practices, and excellence standards for museums worldwide. General standard operating procedures for re-opening museums include: social distancing measures, use of personal protective equipment for staff, establishing hand-washing and sanitizing stations, and proper use of face masks by staff and visitors. Other measures for the containment of the spread of COVID-19 comprise non-contact temperature recording for screening visitors, routine washing and disinfecting galleries and workstations, as well as COVID-19 sensitization to staff and visitors through all museum platforms of communication.

In a notice to the public on 24 September 2020, Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya, Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia announced the re-opening of the museums and sites, whose public facilities cover properties inscribed in the World Heritage List, including Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, The Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests and Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological site. In the statement, Dr. Mzalendo said that the National Museums of Kenya is ready to continue its mandate of enhancing knowledge, appreciation, respect and sustainable utilization of these cultural resources for the benefit of Kenya and the world. He welcomed visitors and urged them to adhere to all protocols put in place for their safety and the safety of others.

During an online World Heritage City Dialogue for the Africa region, organized by UNESCO on 5 October 2020, Mr. Mohammed Ali Mwenje, curator and site manager of the Lamu Old Town, explained that the closure of all museums and social facilities, plus the banning of festivals and cultural events during the pandemic has adversely affected the Lamu historical site and town, which highly depends on tourism for its economy. “We are now ready to receive visitors, and to continue spearheading the implementation of conservation and long term development plans for the town,” said Mr. Mwenje.