26.02.2017 - UNESCO Office in Nairobi

Increased Focus on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Eastern Africa

Mr. Sidi TRAORE leading a discussion with the national authorities of Rwanda during the Needs Assessment mission. ©Sidi Traore

UNESCO supported Kenya, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania with efforts to strengthen their national capacities to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage

Following the strong presence of East African delegates at the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee held in Ethiopia in 2016, three East African countries-- Kenya, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania-- have been increasing their efforts to safeguard intangible cultural heritage in line with the 2003 UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Intangible cultural heritage includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. Intangible cultural heritage is a critical factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

Drawing on the 2003 Convention Global Network of Facilitators, Ms. Emily Drani (Uganda) and Mr. Sidi Traore (Burkina Faso) were sent to Kenya and Rwanda respectively in February 2017 to undertake Needs Assessments and Ms. Deirdre Prins Solani (South Africa) was sent to Tanzania in November 2016 to raise awareness of the national authorities on implementation of the 2003 Convention. These expert missions, which are financed by UNESCO’s Regular Programme Budget, are part of UNESCO’s global strategy to raise national capacities for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage.

The Needs Assessments involve carrying-out on-site consultations and identifying the objectives and key activities of the future activities to strengthen national capacities for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in close collaboration with national institutions in the field of culture and in other fields relevant for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.

During the week of 7 to 11 February, 2017, Kenya conducted a series of national consultative meetings to discuss and document national needs and capacity gaps in promoting and protecting the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kenya. The meetings were facilitated by the Kenya Department of Culture, whose team led by the Director, Dr. Lagat Kiprop, mobilized participants from the various counties within the three regions. Among the participants were the county cultural officials, cultural NGOs, Universities and other Cultural groups. In the national consultations, participants expressed the need for more educational programmes to increase public awareness of the 2003 UNESCO Convention and the need to safeguard Kenya’s intangible cultural heritage. Cultural stakeholders from the counties requested for more capacity building at the county level because culture as a function has been devolved to the county governments under the new constitution and thus the need for more support at that level. The identified needs will be compiled into a report by the expert and presented to UNESCO and Kenyan Authorities by the end of March 2017. In addition, the expert will compile the views of the stakeholders into a project proposal comprised of activities to address the needs as identified during the national consultative meetings.

Kenya ratified the 2003 convention on Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage on 24 October 2007. Since then, two elements from Kenya have been inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent safeguarding. Isukuti dance of Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya inscribed in 2014 and the traditions and practices Associated with the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda in 2009.

During the Needs Assessment consultation meetings, participants expressed interest in having more elements inscribed under the 2003 Convention in order to further safeguard the diverse cultural practices of Kenya’s more than 43 ethnic groups. Globalization and inter-cultural assimilation were identified as some of the challenges to safeguarding these intangible cultural heritage practices.

In Rwanda, which ratified the 2003 Convention on 21 January 2013, the national consultation meetings were carried-out from 22 January to 1 February 2017. Coordinated by the Rwandan National Commission for UNESCO, the Needs Assessment included consultations with various communities and also included an information session with national authorities to increase their understanding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. As with the activity in Kenya, the expert sent to Rwanda will also prepare a report on how to strengthen implementation of the 2003 Convention in Rwanda as well as a project proposal for capacity building based on the outcomes of the national consultations.

In the United Republic of Tanzania, UNESCO supported activities focused on increasing awareness of the 2003 Convention among its national authorities. A workshop was organized from 21 November to 2 December 2016 in Dar es Salaam for Ministry of Culture Staff from the Department of Culture, Museum staff and Intangible Culture focal points from both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in order to raise awareness about the 2003 Convention and how to carry out a community-based inventory. The national authorities in Tanzania and Kenya are currently liaising towards the preparation of a joint nomination file related to the Three Male Rites of Passage of the Massai to be included on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“The 2003 Convention is widely ratified in East Africa”, said Karalyn Monteil, Programme Specialist for Culture at UNESCO’s Regional Office for Eastern Africa. “As more and more East African countries increase their capacities to implement the Convention and use its guidance and resources for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, we will be able to visibly demonstrate how intangible cultural heritage contributes to promoting intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and peace-building among communities,” she added.

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