On Thursday, the UAE made an announcement regarding a fund designed to provide support for the preservation of world heritage and the conservation of historical documents throughout Africa. This fund will be launched through a collaboration with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph), an organization co-founded by the UAE and France in 2017, as well as the African World Heritage Fund, established by the African Union and the United Nations’ cultural agency in 2006.
The primary objective of this initiative is to promote the conservation and safeguarding of natural and cultural heritage sites of exceptional universal value across the African continent. By partnering with the African World Heritage Fund as a platinum sponsor, the UAE, through its Ministry of Culture and Youth, aims to support communities and address the lack of representation of African sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The allocated funds from the UAE will be utilized by Aliph to restore and revitalize significant landmarks such as Sudan’s Dongola Mosque, Yemrehana Krestos Church in Ethiopia, and the National Cultural Heritage Inventory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Coexistence and peace
The ministry unveiled this initiative during a commemorative event organized by the Africa Group at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, in celebration of the 40th Africa Day. Minister of Culture and Youth, Salem Al Qassimi, expressed the UAE’s dedication to preserving human heritage in all its forms and forging partnerships with international organizations actively involved in this field. The UAE recognizes the significance of preserving heritage for future generations and acknowledges its role in fostering intercultural dialogue, diversity, tolerance, coexistence, and peace within societies.
Minister Al Qassimi emphasized the importance of safeguarding African heritage due to the continent’s cultural significance, historical heritage, and its role in shaping human history. The UAE’s efforts in Africa extend beyond conservation and restoration projects. They aim to ensure sustainability, contribute to capacity development, create job opportunities for local communities, and involve them in these projects.
With the UAE set to host the Cop28 summit in November, while also marking 2023 as the Year of Sustainability, Minister Al Qassimi highlighted the need to recognize the impact of climate change on both tangible and intangible heritage in Africa.
This fund builds upon the UAE’s existing commitments to the continent. In November of the previous year, the Ministry of Culture and Youth, through the National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science, signed an agreement with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to include African heritage games on the Representative Lists of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of both UNESCO and ICESCO.
In January, the ministry entered into an agreement with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization to assist Arab countries in Africa in submitting joint files for inscription on UNESCO’s list. Minister Al Qassimi highlighted the long-standing ties between the UAE and Africa, stating that in recent decades, they have strengthened historical and cultural connections with the continent. Africa and the Middle East share a common heritage, as well as deep-rooted links in trade, culture, history, and the Arabic language.
The UAE has introduced numerous initiatives and programs in Africa over the years to promote sustainable development, education, and cultural exchange across the continent. The UAE is proud to be part of the Group of Friends for Priority Africa at UNESCO, aiming to ensure that the implementation of UNESCO’s operational strategy for Priority Africa from 2022 to 2029 yields tangible and impactful results. Minister Al Qassimi expressed hope that UNESCO’s efforts in Africa would lead to significant and lasting achievements in educational, scientific, and cultural programs. This includes fostering greater representation of Africa’s rich and diverse cultural heritage within the Cultural Conventions, which not only fulfills the expectations of African countries but also the hopes of other nations, including the UAE.
Empowering local communities
Through Aliph, a significant portion of the fund will be allocated towards revitalising Dongola Mosque — one of Sudan’s oldest preserved mosques and part of Unesco’s World Heritage Tentative List.
Urgent conservation work on the site began this year, carried out by the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology and National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums. It will continue for another three years, offering 60 jobs to local residents and on-the-job training opportunities for Sudanese experts.
Aliph will also support the restoration of the Yemrehana Krestos Church — a palace and church complex in Amhara dating back to the 11th to 12th centuries.
The UAE will aid the restoration of the DRC’s National Cultural Heritage Inventory. Aliph and the Ministry of Culture and Youth have already assisted in the completion of the first phase, alongside the International Council on Monuments and Sites — with 29 specialists from the country trained in documentation and inventory preparation. The second phase is set to launch next year.
“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,” said Thomas Kaplan, chairman of the board of directors of the Aliph Foundation.
He said the “ambitious” new partnership with the ministry was “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 the Congo in the face of the dual threats of conflict and climate change,” Mr Kaplan said.
Meanwhile, Souayibou Varissou, executive director of the African World Heritage Fund, said that with the support by the Ministry of Culture and Youth “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,” he said. “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.”
Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan, UAE Minister of State, said the fund would help to protect 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,” Sheikh Shakhbout said.
“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.
“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, now known as the African Union.
“This convergence of historical milestones amplifies the importance of our collective efforts to preserve and celebrate Africa’s rich heritage.”