Countee Cullen’s seminal poem “Heritage” has great meaning behind it. It is a stark review of what it is like being an African-American in America. Cullen recognized a state of “double-consciousness” among the African-American people in illuminating that they are forced to see themselves in the eye of others. African-Americans, he surmised, are torn between two cultures but cannot be fully true to either.
Regrettably, African heritage is largely underrepresented on the World Heritage List. Of the 54 nations within the continent, it represents only 12 percent of all chronicled antiquity sites. More common, Africa is disproportionately represented on the List of World Heritage in Danger (39 percent of all sites in danger).
Last year, the African World Heritage Fund organized a series of events anchored in the theme sponsored by the African Union. A special webinar “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers to Build the Africa We Want” provided an opportunity to highlight the role and contribution of [African] culture to the various nation-state economies and related sustainable development.
African World Heritage Day is an opportunity to mobilize local communities worldwide to raise awareness about the urgent need to protect African heritage. Irina Bokova, former director-general of UNESCO, said that of the 23 African sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger, “all are threatened and are at risk of disappearing if we do not act quickly. We each have a role to play.”
The hard work is beginning to pay off. The Lake Chad Basin has long faced multiple challenges in serving as an important source of fresh water for more than 45 million people. More attention is being paid to this vital body of water which was once reduced by 95 percent of its capacity because of decreasing rainfall which has led to significant imbalances in ecosystems.
UNESCO and the Lake Chad Basin Commission in 2017 implemented “Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad” which includes a wide range of activities from setting up an early warning system for droughts and floods, to restoring degraded ecosystems such as spawning grounds, spirulina (a vitamin- and mineral-rich food source) and the Kouri cow, an endemic species that plays an important role in social cohesion in the region.
These and other sites can help to equip youth, women and marginal groups with skill sets such as tour guiding, souvenir making, cultural performances, gardening, and arts and craft. Residents there are learning more to leverage their interpersonal and intercultural dialogue skills to respond to the needs of the visitors and to enhance income generation.