Africa’s cultural and natural heritage has been recognized by UNESCO with the addition of five new locations to the list of World Heritage Sites. These sites include Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda, the Bale Mountains National Park and Gedeo Cultural Landscape in Ethiopia, and the Forest Massif of Odzala-Kokoua in the Republic of Congo.
Despite this progress, sub-Saharan Africa still has a long way to go when it comes to recognition of its heritage. There are currently 1,199 World Heritage sites, but only 103 of those are located in Africa. Additionally, Africa has a higher percentage of World Heritage sites in danger than any other continent.
UNESCO has announced a new plan called “Priority Africa” to boost identification and preservation of cultural and natural heritage sites across the continent. The goal of the plan is to ensure that most African countries without a World Heritage Site have at least started preparing a nomination dossier by 2025.
One of the challenges that African countries face in nominating sites for World Heritage status is the long and expensive process. It takes at least two years for a site to go from nomination to inscription on the list, and the process can demand resources that some nations simply do not have.
Another challenge is that some countries have been slow to ratify the 1972 World Heritage convention, which allows them to submit applications for World Heritage status. Somalia, for example, only ratified the convention in 2020.
UNESCO is working to address these challenges by providing training and resources to help African countries identify and nominate sites for World Heritage status. The organization is also working to reduce the number of African sites listed as “World Heritage in Danger.” Currently, 15 sites in UNESCO’s Africa tally are listed as in danger, and UNESCO wants to work with its partners to halve that number by 2029.