The United Arab Emirates, represented by the Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has announced a fund to support world heritage, document conservation and capacity building initiatives at a number of sites across Africa.
The fund will be launched in collaboration with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) and the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF).
The announcement came during an event held by the Africa Group at UNESCO headquarters in the French capital, Paris, coinciding with Africa Day celebrations on May 25 and Africa Week.
The event was attended by Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth; Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director-General for Priority Africa and External Relations of UNESCO; Souayibou Varissou, Executive Director of the African World Heritage Fund; and Valéry Freland, Executive Director of the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH).
Ambassadors and Permanent Delegates to UNESCO, and representatives of non-governmental organisations and the private sector were also present at the event.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth will represent the UAE, and become a Platinum Partner of the African World Heritage Fund.
The African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) is an intergovernmental organisation created in 2006 by the African Union and UNESCO to support the effective conservation and protection of cultural and natural heritage in Africa.
The main objective of the AWHF is to address the challenges faced by African States Parties in the implementation of the UNESCO 1972 World Heritage Convention, specifically, the underrepresentation of African sites on the World Heritage List and the conservation and management of these sites.
The UAE’s contributions also aim to build the capacities of local communities, while ALIPH, which the UAE co-founded in 2017 in collaboration with France, will implement three projects in Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia.
In a statement, Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said, "In the UAE, we are committed to conserving human heritage in all its forms, and strengthening partnerships with international organisations actively working in this field, out of our belief in the importance of preserving this heritage for future generations, and the role it plays. Heritage plays a significant role in intercultural dialogue, it enhances diversity, tolerance, coexistence and peace in societies."
He stressed that working to preserve heritage in Africa is of particular importance, due to the cultural significance that the continent enjoys and its enormous civilisational heritage, which represents an important part of human history and culture. Preservation of these elements will reinforce its magnificent cultural legacy. Heritage conservation efforts can make a strong socioeconomic impact and lead to sustainable development with local community participation, empowering its members and to play an active role with tangible benefits, as well as promote tourism. It is these holistic objectives that the UAE will be aiming to achieve through these projects, he emphasised.
He continued, “Through these efforts, we are keen to go beyond conservation and restoration projects and operations in Africa. We seek to make these projects sustainable and contribute to capacity development and to create job opportunities for the local community, and to involve them in all of these projects.”
He also stressed that among the most important reasons for the UAE to implement this project at this time is the impact of climate change on tangible and intangible heritage in Africa. The launch of the fund also coincides with the UAE’s declaration of 2023 as the ‘Year of Sustainability’, and the country’s hosting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in November of this year, an event which will include talks on climate change and its impact on culture and society.
The UAE has also previously implemented projects to support tangible and intangible heritage in Africa. In November 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Youth, through the UAE’s National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, signed an agreement with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ICESCO) to inscribe African heritage games on the Representative Lists of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of ICESCO and UNESCO. In addition, in January 2023, the Ministry and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO), signed an agreement to support Arab countries in Africa to submit joint files for inscription on the same list.
On this occasion, Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs , “The UAE, in collaboration with esteemed organisations such as ALIPH and AWHF, is proud to announce the launch of a dedicated fund, which will work to safeguard and document invaluable heritage sites across Africa. Our vision embodies a resolute determination to empower local communities, inspire innovation, and establish sustainable opportunities that will shape future generations. By doing so, we not only strengthen the fabric of cultural identity but also propel social and economic development, fostering an environment of peaceful coexistence.”
He added, “The launch of this fund on Africa Day has tremendous cultural significance. It is a day that not only commemorates vibrant African culture and the spirit of Africa but also signifies the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU). This convergence of historical milestones amplifies the importance of our collective efforts to preserve and celebrate Africa's rich heritage.”
Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the ALIPH Foundation; said, “The United Arab Emirates — our co-founding member and a global leader in the protection of cultural heritage — has been a champion of the Foundation’s mission since its very beginnings some six years ago. The ambitious partnership that we embark on today with Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi and the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the UAE stands as a powerful reaffirmation of the country’s strong support for the new form of multilateralism that ALIPH embodies — one that emphasises concrete action, tangible results, and operational flexibility. Our joint efforts also shine a crucial spotlight on the absolute urgency to safeguard the African continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, while leading the charge to protect sites and monuments in Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the face of the dual threats of conflict and climate change.”
Souayibou Varissou said, “We are confident that with the support by the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the United Arab Emirates, we will be able to better serve the continent in ensuring effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Africa. This includes capacity building programmes, risk management and heritage tourism and the invaluable support from the Government of the United Arab Emirates will boost our capability to make long-term impact about the inscription of African sites on the World Heritage List and the conservation and management of those sites as an asset for the sustainable growth of local communities. Opportunities remain available for the continent to strengthen its cultural and natural heritage. The work done by the African World Heritage Fund is achieved through various partnerships with governments, communities, and their leaders including the youth.”
These projects will be implemented in cooperation with local governments, alongside local and international partners. One of the projects that will benefit from the initiative is the restoration of the National Cultural Heritage Inventory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The restoration work on this project is being carried out in two phases. The first phase has already been completed granted by ALIPH with the support of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
The project has so far trained 29 specialists from relevant institutions in DRC in the field of documentation and inventory preparation. The second phase of the project is scheduled to begin in 2024.
A significant part of the fund will be allocated to revitalise one of the oldest preserved Sudanese mosques at Dongola, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
This project has been undertaken by the University of Warsaw along with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA) in partnership with the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM).
Urgent conservation work on the Dongola Mosque began early this year and will go on for three years, with the project also providing on-the-job training opportunities for Sudanese experts, creating 60 jobs in the process for city residents.
One of the most significant projects under the current programme will be the restoration of the Yemrehana Krestos Church in Ethiopia, which is considered one of the most symbolic sites in the country in the Amhara region. It encompasses a palace and a church dating back to the 11th-12th centuries.