Makerere Hill, off Bativa road, Kampala | +256 (0) 393 294 675/7
Makerere Hill, off Bativa road, Kampala | +256 (0) 393 294 675/7

Will Africa’s youth protect their World Heritage amidst climate change?

Writer. Aliguma Ahabyona Akiiki, Programme/Communication Coordinator, The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU)

Youth and Africa’s World Heritage

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30, with projections being that by 2030, young Africans are expected to make up 42 percent of the world’s youth. Therefore, young people have a significant stake in our continent’s future.

Africa is renowned for its beautiful and diverse landscapes and wildlife, with protected and conserved areas being an integral part of its natural heritage; and its unique and diverse tangible and intangible cultural heritage. In 2023, at the sitting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 5 new sites from Africa were inscribed and the continent celebrated having 100 sites on the World Heritage List. With this achievement, are Africa’s youth well prepared to take on a protective role to ensure the survival of this heritage in times of unprecedented challenges of our time such as climate change?

Climate change – unprecedented effects on Africa’s World Heritage

Climate change is causing damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems, including cultural and natural heritage sites. Cultural and natural heritage sites are situated in different climatic conditions. Climate change threatens the very existence of heritage sites, particularly terrestrial sites in vulnerable locations such as coastal areas exposed to increased erosion and sea level rise. The changing climate is also causing the displacement of the values that make up the Outstanding Universal Value, such as the agricultural and cultivated species in cultural landscapes and biological communities and threatened species in terrestrial and marine parks.

From the deglaciation of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, to the drying of the Victoria falls in Zimbabwe, and to the coastal erosion and sea-level rise that have damaged African World Heritage Sites like the Roman city of Sabratha on the Libyan coast and the colonial forts along the coastline of Ghana, climate change is having a dire effect on Africa’s World Heritage.

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Policy Document on Climate Action for World Heritage (2023), ‘World Heritage properties are affected by the impacts of climate change at present and in the future. Their continued preservation requires understanding these impacts to their Outstanding Universal Value and responding to them effectively’. The Climate Heritage Network notes that, cultural heritage, including traditional knowledge, strengthens resilience, helps communities to adapt to climate impacts, protects places, and offers green, circular and regenerative solutions.

The 7th Africa World Heritage Youth Forum: an opportunity for Africa’s youth to shape the future of Africa’s World Heritage

In January 2024, the African World Heritage Fund in partnership with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the UAE Ministry of Culture & Youth organised the 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum under the theme: “Engaging African Youth in Climate Action for World Heritage Conservation”. The first segment of the Forum that was held online from 15th to 19th January 2024 brought together African heritage young professionals to share their perspectives, experiences, and solutions for addressing the challenges posed by climate change and to learn from various heritage experts on climate change and heritage. The online session was officially opened by Espéra Donouvossi, the project lead of ‘Youth.Heritage.Africa’ project of ICCROM.

While presenting at the Forum, Prof. Munyaradzi Manyanga from the Great Zimbabwe University emphasized that ‘…our cultural heritage is not renewable, we therefore have to take action to save it’. In his closing remarks at the online Forum, Dr. Albino Jopela, the Head of Programmes at the African World Heritage Fund reiterated the youth’s potential in changing the discourse regarding heritage promotion and taking leadership roles to mitigate the effects of climate change on Africa’s World Heritage.

An online session on Day 3 moderated by Viola Omina from Heritage Links Us and Bridget Dube from the African World Heritage Fund

Youth participants generated various ideas including training Africa heritage youth to take on World Heritage inscription and protection roles, learning from the imbalanced representation of African heritage on the World Heritage List, regular sessions for youth professionals from various countries to promote learning and networking, utilise indigenous knowledge systems to tackle climate change on Africa World Heritage sites, emphasize heritage education in higher institution of learning, among others. Some of these ideas were presented inform of individual projects on the last day of the session. A comprehensive statement, well elaborated declaration will be developed by the Forum.

The Forum will also have an in-person workshop that will be held in Zimbabwe in March 2024.

Act now!

Given their potential, it is crucial that Africa’s youth should be empowered and equipped with all the necessary skillsets, knowledge and practical exposure, and ensure that their voices are heard so that they can lead and/or provide the necessary support in protecting Africa’s World Heritage.

The writer was a participant at the 7th African World Heritage Youth online Forum 2024.