Inventory, Protection and Promotion of African Cultural Goods

Published on 9th November 2009

President  Zuma in cultural regalia 

Photo courtesy

Africa has been endeavoring to realize its integration, build sustainable peace and win its fight against poverty and injustice. Many appreciable achievements could be noted within this quest for Africa’s Renaissance with the establishment of various AU organs such as the Pan African Parliament in 2004, AU Peace and Security Council in December 2003, the Economic, Cultural and Social Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) in March 2005, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 1987, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in January 2005.


These have been augmented with the Africa-European Union Strategic Partnership in the fields related to peace building, good governance and human development. Those achievements are pertinent illustration of Africa’s ambition to base its development on the legitimate needs of its populations and to take advantage of globalization and stronger solidarity and equity as is stipulated in the AU Constitutive Act.


Despite the progress achieved, Africa continues to face many socioeconomic challenges and conflicts which hamper  progression towards the African Renaissance. These challenges require the mobilization of all Africans and the promotion of a AU vision for a “peaceful, integrated, prosperous Africa led by its population and representing a dynamic force within the International area.” The future of the continent depends on  human-centered, participatory and rights-based approaches to development that recognize the need to prioritize the promotion of cultural identity, shared values and creative genius as tools for social transformation and human development. Foremost African thinkers like the historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo has asserted long time ago the importance of the promotion and the exploitation of Africa’s invaluable cultural heritage to enrich its social capital and ensure its endogenous and self-development.


Throughout its history, Africa has experienced cultural damage and human deprivation caused by slavery, colonization, apartheid. A mechanism of recovery should entail the domestication of all relevant policy and legal instruments; the creation of an enabling environment conducive to the modernization and professionalization of the inventory; the protection and promotion of cultural goods and the return of stolen or illicitly exported African cultural goods.


The development and management of cultural heritage should no longer be viewed as a non-economic sector but as a modern science, a thriving industry and a dynamic professional sector vital for the socioeconomic development of the continent. This requires the development of evidence-based strategies, the implementation of a capacity building programmes and the strengthening of partnership and networks.




Two distinct historical periods marked the African cultural development agenda in general and the promotion and protection of African cultural goods in particular. The first one is the period before and during the Organization of the African Unity (OAU). The second one is the period following the creation of the African Union (AU).


Prior and during the OAU period, two Congresses of Black Writers and Artists were organized in 1956 and 1959. This was followed by the 1st Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers in 1969 and the UNESCO Conference on Cultural Policies in Africa 1975. The adoption of the Cultural Charter for Africa in 1976; the organization of the four Conferences of Ministers of Culture from 1986 to 1993; and the adoption of the Plan of Action for the Promotion of African Languages in 1997 could be included within the list of historical benchmarks that contributed significantly to the harmonization of cultural development policies and programmes.


The events and conferences listed above recommended the need to strengthen the visibility and the employability of African culture as well as to take more decisive public action in the promotion of African culture.


During the AU period, we could note the organization of the 1st Pan African Cultural Congress in 2006 and two Conferences of the Ministers of Culture in 2005 and 2008. The adoption of the Plan of Action for the on Cultural and Creative Industry in 2008 and the Charter for the Cultural Renaissance of Africa in 2006 constitute significant achievements for the promotion of cultural diversity and African cultural identity. The concept of the African Cultural Renaissance was recognized as the main engine leading to the realization of the AU vision for peace building, integration, democracy and active participation in the world’s joint effort towards sustainable development and mutual enrichment. As regard to institutional and capacity building, some major achievements are worth noting: the creation of the African Academy for Languages (ACALAN) in 2005 and the launching of the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) in 2006.


The protection and promotion of cultural heritage has also been  dynamic at the International level. The growing interest for establishing and or strengthening partnership and networks inspired by a globalised approach to development has offered invaluable opportunities for Africa to further its cultural development agenda and to benefit from the support of partners. Three major factors could explain this positive change: 


-The renewed commitment  to promote Human Rights, fundamental  freedoms and Human dignity including the right to participate in and benefit from cultural life as part of the holistic development of the human being ;


-The commitment to give an human face to the globalised economic and financial development of the world by strengthening ties and mutual respect among peoples; and


-The vital need to fight against the growing threat of genocide, terrorism, racism, trafficking and violence as well as the recognition that culture has a role to play in reversing these negative perspectives.


Among the numerous institutions, partnerships and policy and legal instruments developed, the following could be considered as particularly relevant for the inventory, protection and promotion of African cultural goods:


-UN Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights

-African Charter on Human and People’s Rights

-Charter for the Cultural Renaissance of Africa

-Africa Cultural Charter

-The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris, 1970);

-The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally exported Cultural Objects (Rome, 1995);

-UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage (Paris, 2003); and

-The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (Paris, 2005).

-The establishment of the Africa-European Union Joint Strategy and its first Action Plan 2008-2010;

-The Memorandum of Understanding between the AUC and the UNESCO in 2006;

-The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris, 1970);

-The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally exported Cultural Objects (Rome, 1995); and

-The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (Paris, 2005).


Courtesy: Africa Union

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