The UNESCO World Heritage Committee will vote on the nominations of 35 sites on its list from July2 to 12. Among them, five African countries. Explanations and predictions.
A cathedral that one would think would come from Tuscany, cinemas and Art Deco theaters, modernist villas, futuristic avenues: well hidden behind the screen of a regime as secret as authoritarian, Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, was a laboratory of modern architecture. From the 1920s to their departure in 1941, the Italian colonizers had made it “the most modern and sophisticated city in Africa,” states the Unesco website.
Asmara is one of five African sites (2 cultural properties and a mixed property) proposed this year for inscription on the list of Unesco World Heritage, which holds its dedicated session from 2 to 12 July in Krakow, Poland. “A very interesting site, exemplary of the modern heritage of Africa,” says MechtildRössler, Germany, head of the World Heritage Center. His enthusiasm bodes well for the Eritrean capital, although, he concedes, the nature of the local regime has not facilitated the work of the experts.
MbanzaKongo, capital of the former kingdom of Kongo in Angola, is another site candidate for the precious label. Its ruins do not have the monumental Eritrean capital, but it meets other criteria that underpin the inscription, such as “to bring a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or a living or extinct civilization.”For the former Sao Salvador of the Portuguese was the city of one of the most powerful states of ancient Africa, a cultural home frequented by the Lusitanian sailors as early as 1490.
In South Africa, another territory of men, the Bushmen of XamKhomaniis in contention. The place is wild but the presence of rock art, rare testimony of the culture bushmen disappeared, brings the site to appear under the label “cultural landscape” exception. Las, if Asmara and MbanzaKongo received the favorable opinion of the experts for their inscriptions, they recommended that that of the bushmen site be postponed. “These advisory bodies propose a thorough re-examination of the dossier,” Unesco said.
The experts declared an “Approved Extension”, for the National Park W of Niger already classified. It is attached to the category of “natural properties”, lesser than cultural property but whose conservation requirements are at least as important. If the sovereign committee in its decision, recalls Agnes Bardon of the Unesco press service, follows the recommendations of the experts, the new site called Complexe W-Arly-Pendjari will encompass vast new areas in Benin and Burkina Faso.
“The landscapes of the W and Arly parks are diverse and exceptional; Vast expanses of grasslands and grassy savannahs, massive rocks (Gobnangou, Atakora) as well as numerous hills “, describes the site of the CPM.
In Ghana, the ranking of Mole Park, the country’s largest wildlife reserve founded in 1958, will also be defended. But without much hope this time, because the experts advised non-registration and, experience, they are likely to be followed. “A very serious problem must make it impossible in this state,” explains Agnes Bourdon.
At three weeks of the committee’s vote, it is almost certain that Asmara and the Angolan city of Mbanza Congo will get their patent. The others are unlikely. “However, in recent years, there has been pressure from countries on the Committee to qualify those in the higher category,” concludes the Unesco press service. It may therefore be that Ghana goes back to “deferred”, and South Africa is “deferred” to “returned”, which involves less extensive revisions.
Another quasi-certainty and good news for Côte d’Ivoire, its national park of Comoé will be examinedfor withdrawal from the list of patrimonies in peril. It was registered in 2003 “because of the impact of the civil unrest; the decline of large mammal populations due to increasing and uncontrolled poaching, and the lack of effective management mechanisms.” MechtildRössler, director of the CPM, said: “The authorities have implemented the measures recommended at the time for the site to be removed from the list. It is not clear which country could oppose the withdrawal or why it could be denied.”