Date: Saturday, 27 October 2018
The UNESCO project was launched in Asmara in 2014, and aimed to build a critical level of experience and knowledge, both in government institutions and among the nine ethno-linguistic communities of Eritrea, so that the country is equipped with an appropriate sustainable framework for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in on a long term basis.
The State of Eritrea ratified the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention in 2010. Since then, a number of programmes and projects were carried-out as part of Eritrea’s implementation of the Convention, including creating an Intangible Cultural Heritage Section within the Eritrean Commission for Culture and Sports and designating a national focal point for the 2003 Convention.
As part of the UNESCO project, a stakeholders’ workshop on Eritrean Cultural and Natural Heritage Legislation was held in Asmara in May 2015. The workshop was organized by the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the Asmara Heritage Project in conjunction with UNESCO Nairobi Office. Hon. Silverse Anami, a UNESCO ICH expertfrom Kenya, led the workshop, which resulted in the adoption of a draft Eritrean Cultural and Natural Heritage Legislation, which was later approved by the government in September 2015 and officially launched in a public ceremony in January 2016. Eritrea’s national legislation, which covers the guidance of both the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention and the 2003 Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention, is now included on the UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws.
In April 2017, a training workshop on “Community-based inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage” was held in Asmara. The aim of the workshop was to provide fundamental principles and practical information on community-based inventorying, using UNESCO’s capacity-building material as a guide. Mr. Lovemore Mazibuko, an ICH expert from Malawi led the workshop. This community-based inventorying workshop was followed by fieldwork among the nine ethno-linguistic groups of Eritrea, led by Dr. Senait Bahta, a national ICH expert engaged by UNESCO. As a result of the fieldwork, 18 intangible cultural heritage elements were successfully inventoried and became part of Eritrea’s first national inventory of ICH. In February 2018, another workshop on “Preparation of Nomination Files and elaboration of International Assistance Requests” was convened in Asmara. The workshop was led by Mr. Mazibuko, and organized by the Commission of Culture and Sports in collaboration with UNESCO Regional Office in Nairobi. It introduced the process of nominating elements on UNESCO’s two Lists (Representative List and Urgent Safeguarding List) and the Register of Best Practice. It also presented the process for elaborating requests for International Assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund. In July 2018, a National Committee was established by the Commission for Culture and Sports in order to oversee the safeguarding of Eritrea’s ICH. As a final activity of the project, the National Committee adopted a two-year Action Plan for safeguarding the country’s intangible cultural heritage, which includes the submission of an International Assistance Request for the preparation of Eritrea’s first nomination file of an ICH element.
An evaluation of this project was carried out by the UNESCO Programme Specialist for Culture from the Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Ms. Karalyn Monteil, with support from Eritrea’s national focal point for the 2003 Convention, Mr. Mohad Suleman from the Commission for Culture and Sports—Intangible Heritage Section, and Dr. Senait Bahta, the national ICH expert, during a mission to Eritrea from 22 to 26 October 2018. The evaluation process consulted a wide range of stakeholders involved in the project over the years ranging from staff of the Department of Culture, team leaders for the inventory fieldwork, participants in the workshops and community representatives as well as the national and international experts engaged by UNESCO to support implementation of the project. The evaluation mission visited Asmara and Massawa, to interview participants in the project. The results of the evaluation concluded that the project made swift and effective strides in raising capacities on a national level, and equipping a wide range of government and community stakeholders with the skills necessary to safeguard Eritrea’s ICH over the long term.
The national legislation developed through this project, which covers both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, can serve as a model for other countries in the Africa region. The high level of media attention focused on this project ensured not only wide national media coverage but also international coverage, including through the Eritrean Delegation to the African Union newsletter. The results of the project were also expanded through UNESCO Regular Programme funding from the Communications and Information Sector to include preparation of digital archives of the inventoried ICH elements, which are now included in the Eritrean Research and Documentation Centre (equivalent to the National Archives).
Eritrea’s next steps in safeguarding their ICH include submitting a request for International Assistance to the 2003 Convention Fund and beginning preparations for their first nomination file.