UNESCO to hold online symposium on strengthening African memory institutions’ resilience in response to COVID-19

On 7 September 2021 UNESCO is bringing together archives, libraries and museums from Africa in an online symposium to share the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and better plan for future crises.

The event, under the theme “Strengthening the resilience of memory institutions in Africa in the face of COVID-19 and beyond”, will host policymakers and documentary heritage professionals from Africa and Asia and the Pacific to propose effective preservation policies in the face of future crises and identify ways of incorporating documentary heritage as part of national disaster risk reduction strategies.

The symposium will incorporate an online workshop, scheduled on 8 September. It will focus on emergency planning and disaster response for selected African professionals working at national archives, libraries, museums, and other memory institutions.

Both the symposium and the workshop are organized by the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in partnership with the National Archives Administration of China.

Towards a stronger documentary heritage preservation agenda for Africa

The symposium builds on an online consultation held in May 2020 among a group of experts from memory institutions across Africa, which revealed the challenges in the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage during the Covid-19 outbreak and exposed policy and capacity gaps in emergency preparedness plans at the national and institutional levels. In this context, the symposium has set as one of its main objectives to analyse the response of African memory institutions in the face of the pandemic, and share lessons learned for moving forward.

Moreover, a platform for exchange with memory institutions from Asia and the Pacific countries has been integrated to promote South-South cooperation, placing a special focus on the National Archives Administration of China’s response to the pandemic. The event also aims to identify challenges and opportunities for implementing preservation and accessibility policies, in line with UNESCO’s 2015 Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form.

The keynote speech, entitled “Framing Africa’s cultural preservation and accessibility as sustainable development: the challenges of emergency preparedness during Covid-19 and beyond”, will be delivered by Professor Alinah K. Segobye, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. Two other sessions will address the following topics:

  • “Documentary heritage in the face of COVID-19: experiences from memory institutions in Africa and Asia and the Pacific”; and
  • “Strengthening resilience: emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction for memory institutions”.

The final programme, including the list of speakers, will be announced soon. The symposium is open by prior registration to policy makers, members of international documentary heritage associations, experts, practitioners and members of the Memory of the World national and regional committees. Interpretation will be available in French, English and Chinese.

Targeted capacity-building for documentary heritage professionals

Selected professionals from memory institutions in African countries will participate in a capacity-building workshop on disaster planning and management led by Mr Brandon Oswald, a member of the International Council on Archives (ICA) Expert Group – Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness. A member of the Pacific Regional Branch of the ICA, he is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization Island Culture Archival Support.

Mr Oswald will provide tools on the development of emergency preparedness, response and recovery plans, joined by two national experts from African countries who will share their experiences with crisis response through specific case studies reflecting their own contexts. The expected learning outcome is to equip professionals from memory institutions with the knowledge and skills needed to create emergency response plans for future health and global emergencies, ensuring the preservation of their documentary heritage.

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