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Cultural Landscapes - African

Author Solivagant
#1 | Posted: 16 Jul 2011 03:02 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Africa seems to be utilising the "Cultural Landscape" (CL) route as major means of gaining inscription for non-colonial cultural sites and I feel the phenomenon justifies exploration via a forum topic! As a start I have had a look into its history, current extent and possible future.

The concept of World Heritage "Cultural Landscapes" was first introduced in 1992 but the earliest event I can find relating to its adoption in a specifically African context is a UNESCO-run "Regional Thematic Expert meeting on African Cultural Landscapes" held in Kenya in Mar 1999 . Its recommendations identified the need for all involved parties (Advisory Bodies, Nominating countries, WH Centre etc) to take on board a series of "culturally oriented" changes to the basis on which such sites were to be prepared, evaluated and managed, covering matters such as recognising intangible/spiritual values, concepts of "Communal" ownership/management and the definition of "Authenticity"

At the time there were NO inscribed CLs in Africa – though Nigeria's Sukur was to succeed just a few months later at the Marrakesh WHC. The significance of that event can perhaps be judged from the minutes of the session "Several members of the Committee expressed their pleasure and emotion following the inscription of this cultural landscape on the World Heritage List as it reflects international recognition of African heritage and is of significant importance in achieving the goals of the Global Strategy."

Since that initial inscription, African CLs have been gaining inscription at a rate of almost 1 pa :-
Nigeria – Sukur Cultural Landscape (1999)
Madagascar – Sacred Hill of Ambohimanga (2001)
South Africa –Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003)
Togo – Koutammakou The Land of the Batammariba (2004)
Nigeria – Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove (2005)
Gabon – Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lope Okanda (2007)
South Africa – Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (2007)
Kenya – Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests (2008)
Mautitius – Le Morne Cultural Landscape (2008)
Ethiopia –Konso Cultural Landscape (2011)

A quick perusal of the Nomination files and AB evaluations for many of these indicates to me that the recommendations made by the Expert Group had indeed been taken on board. "Africa" can't, I believe, complain that their nominations haven't been granted a fair wind by UNESCO etc. I can only find 1 site which was deferred and hasn't re-emerged – Azougi in Mauritania (and, having been there I can see why!). Konso on the other hand (also correctly in my view, again having been there) was shepherded through the 2011 WHC despite the rather pedantic reservations of ICOMOS!

It is perhaps relevant to look at what has happened to those sites which "spoke" at the 1999 Expert meeting. It is likely that they were already the ones which had started matters "moving" but the result is in fact somewhat mixed and demonstrates the very long haul involved in gaining inscription.
Slave Route (Benin) – on T List since 1996
Salt Gardens of Kibiro (Uganda) – on T List since 1997
Sukur – now inscribed (1999)
Ambohimanga – now inscribed (2001)
Salt route (Niger) – added to T List 2006
Mijikendra forests – now inscribed (2008)
Konso-Kardula - now inscribed (2011)
Kruger National Park as Cultural Landscape - not on S Africa's T List

But what of other CLs on the T List? It isn't always easy, from descriptions on the UNESCO Web site, to identify which sites are going to be nominated under this category, but here is my initial draft list of around 29 potential further "African CLs". What we don't know much about of course is which are being actively pursued :-
Algeria - Les oasis à foggaras et les ksour du Grand Erg Occidental (UNESCO T list entry "theme" = CL)
Algeria – Nedroma et les Taras ("theme" = CL)
Algeria – Oued Souf ("theme" = CL)
Algeria - Parc des Aurès avec les établissements oasiens des gorges du Rhoufi et d'El Kantara ("theme" = CL)
Benin – Site Lacustre de Ganvie (? = Not specifically identified as such on UNESCO site)
Botswana - Tswapong Hills Cultural Landscape
Cameroon – Chefferie de Bafut (?)
CAR - La foret et les campements residentiels de reference pygmie AKA (?)
Chad - La region d'Archei : le paysage naturel, culturel et son art rupestre
Comores - Ecosystemes terrestres et paysage culturel de l'Archipel des Comores
Comores - Paysage culturel des Plantations à Parfums des Iles de la Lune
Egypt - Oasis of Fayoum, hydraulic remains and ancient cultural landscapes
Eritrea - Qoahito Cultural Landscape
Gabon - L'écosystème et le paysage culturel pygmée du massif de Minkébé
Ghana - Nzulezu Stilt settlement ("theme" = CL)
Ghana- Tenzug – Tallensi settlements ("theme" = CL)
Guinea - Architecture vernaculaire et paysage culturel mandingue du Gberedou/Hamana
Guinea – Paysage Culturel des Monts Nimba
Guinea - Route de l'esclave en Afrique segment de Timbo au Rio Pongo (?)
Kenya - Thimlich Ohinga Cultural Landscape
Madagascar - Paysage culturel rizicole et hydraulique de Betafo
Mauritania - Paysage culturel d'Azougui (deferred in 2005)
Niger - Itineraires Culturels du Desert du Sahara : Route du Sel (?)
Nigeria - Surame Cultural Landscape
South Africa - The Cape Winelands Cultural Landscape
South Africa – Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape ("it is anticipated that the Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape will be nominated as an extension of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site along with similar sites that share the same connection in Mexico, Australia, Brazil and India.")
Tunisia – Oasis de Gabes (?)
Uganda – Kibiro Salt Producing Village (?)
Zambia - The Barotse Cultural Landscape

But is this number of T List CLs, when added to the 10 already inscribed, disproportionate for the continent of Africa? A quick survey of inscribed European CLs reaches around 41!! To put this in context, Africa has around 3x the area, a slightly larger population and slightly more countries than Europe. It may "seem" that Africa is nominating a lot of CLs but this is probably more a reflection of the much lower number of cultural sites it nominates generally and a higher percentage of CLs within that lower number. Actually it is nominating fewer of this type of site than Europe and wouldn't be disproportionate in comparison even if ALL its T List sites were inscribed.

It might also be said that the African CLs are all rather similar – a lot of mud/thatched huts, dry landscapes, tribal sacred groves etc! Well I guess European CLs have their commonalities too – the church, the vernacular architecture, the vineyards...etc! And which of us really knows of more than 4 or 5 from the above African list? Perhaps this "appearance" of excessive similarity across sites is more a reflection of our poor understanding of differences between African cultural groups? As a result we fail to recognise that the differences between, say, Konso and Sukur landscapes are possibly greater than those, for instance, between Spanish and Hungarian ones!

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 Cultural Landscapes - African

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