The urgency of protecting Africa’s underwater cultural heritage was underscored during an awareness event held on June 4, 2022 in the beautiful historic city of Mombasa, Kenya and at the idyllic site of Fort Jesus, a World Heritage Site.
This event took place as part of the UNESCO project “Building Capacity and Raising Awareness of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa” supported by the Japanese government and took place at the end of a 10-day training for 18 participants from 14 African countries, namely Benin, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sudan and Tanzania. It was attended by community leaders, government officials, civil society organizations and stakeholders from Mombasa and the surrounding area.
Mr. Stanvas Ongalo, Ag. The Director General of the National Museums of Kenya also stressed the importance of the event at Fort Jesus and its contribution to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
The event sensitized stakeholders to the tremendous opportunity and importance of protecting underwater cultural heritage and developing sustainable tourism and blue economy. Threats to underwater cultural heritage such as treasure hunting, looting, commercial exploitation, environmental degradation, acidification or pollution were also discussed.
The 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage provides a roadmap for protecting this fragile and often underestimated heritage, which includes shipwrecks, airplanes and sunken cities. Among the beneficiary countries, Nigeria, Namibia, Benin, Madagascar and Senegal have ratified this important convention, and a total of 19 countries across the continent. Therefore, the Japanese government-backed project on “Capacity Building and Awareness Raising on Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa” is crucial.
Through this project, UNESCO together with its main partners; the National Museums of Kenya and Rising from the Depths Network have successfully completed a 10-day workshop in Mombasa with experienced trainers and underwater and marine archaeologists. During the workshop, representatives from different African countries were trained in exploring and protecting underwater cultural heritage. With the support of their trainers, the trainees showed a photo and graphic exhibition of the projects developed during the training, which was a continuation of the June 2021 online engagement, and stood ready to present and answer the questions stopped by the audience.
To further build capacity and raise awareness of Africa’s underwater cultural heritage, the program will launch a 12-minute short film to raise awareness among local communities and 8 three-minute modules to train underwater archaeologists. The films will be shared on UNESCO social media platforms, websites and museums across the continent.