"Being at the vanguard of cultural heritage protection in Africa"
The Minister of Culture and Tourism of Senegal, S. Exc. Mr Youssou N'Dour highligted the need for Africa to be at the vanguard of cultural heritage protection, when he opened the sub-regional meeting organized to fight illicit trafficking of cultural property in West Africa on 17 September 2012 in Dakar.
"We need to use the 'highways of information' such as the Internet and other digital resources to strengthen the the, knowledge and protection of cultural heritage," the Minister told a group of 40 participants from 15 West African countries.
The sub-regional meeting is organized by UNESCO Dakar from 17-19 September 2012 with the support of UNESCO's Emergency Fund and the Dutch Government.
Mr Youssou N'Dour emphasized the idea that awareness-raising on cultural heritage protection should be brought to a higher level.
Improved knowledge for better protection
"We need to intensify our work of identification of cultural sites and property to effectively protect our cultural heritage," he said.
"This would lead to a new process of digitization and classification and would facilitate access to information on cultural heritage for experts and professionals as well as for the population who also have a key role to play in protecting their cultural heritage," he added.
The Minister called for better communications between West African countries regarding their cultural heritage.
"More direct communications would emphasize their mutual regional heritage and set the basis for more coordinated policies on cultural heritage protection," he said.
African Art in vogue
The Director of UNESCO's Regional Office in Dakar, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta highlighted in her speech that the global art market is exploding in Europe, the United States and Asia.
"Internet is facilitating transactions which take place with an unprecedented speed, the demand is insatiable and African Art is in vogue," she said.
To strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking globally, UNESCO is organizing a series of training sessions in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in South Eastern Europe.
Conducted by UNESCO and its partners; Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA), the National Museum of Mali, UNIDROIT, INTERPOL and specialized police corps, this meeting in Dakar is the first of six training sessions planned under this capacity-building programe.
It brings together experts and professionals, including representatives of Ministries of Culture, museum professionals, lawyers, police and customs officers as well as Interpol representatives from national and regional bureaux.
High risks in Mali
Recalling the current crisis in Mali that jeopardizes its rich heritage, Mrs Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta and Mr Youssou N'Dour called upon all stakeholders to join their forces to strengthen the means of action in place to improve the protection of the regional cultural heritage, in particular the reinforcement of the cooperation at national and regional levels to better prevent and fight illicit traffic of cultural objects.
"Cultural Heritage sites in Mali are currently under high risk of looting and damage and the risk of illicit trafficking of cultural property is very much present," said Ndong-Jatta, adding that this underlines the need for close cooperation across the region among museum professionals, art dealers, police and customs officers and the media.
A press conference will take place at the end of the meeting on 19 September at 4 pm at UNESCO Dakar (BREDA).