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Conference on underwater cultural heritage kicks off in Malindi

The  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in collaboration with Ministry of Sports Culture and the Arts and National Museums of Kenya (NMK) are organizing a regional ministerial conference on underwater cultural heritage in Malindi.

The two days Regional Ministerial Conference will take place in Malindi between March 11 to 12, 2019 running under the theme “Underwater Cultural Heritage for sustainable tourism development in Eastern Africa and the adjacent Indian Ocean Islands”.

According to Unesco, underwater cultural heritage encompasses all traces of human existence that lie or have lain underwater and have a cultural or historical character with the seabed often called “the biggest museum of the world’.

The conference comes in the backdrop when many of the African continent’s valuable heritage sites are under threat from uncontrolled development, coastal erosion and civil unrest.

The  NMK Head of Underwater Archaeology, Bita Ceaser  said the conference would be attended by Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Directors responsible for culture from the Sub Saharan region.

He said countries that would be represented at the meeting included Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, and Djibouti.

Ceaser said the conference would involve a roundtable and discussion of issues relating to the conservation, protection and promotion of underwater cultural heritage in the region.

Kenya has made milestones in protection of her underwater cultural heritage.

He said it was the first country in Sub Saharan Africa to undertake underwater archaeological works and recognizing the value of underwater cultural heritage.

This  was in 1977 during excavation of ‘Santa  Antonio de Tanna’ shipwreck in Mombasa whose exhibition is now in Mombasa Fort Jesus Museum.

The archaeologist said over the years the country has undertaken underwater archaeological surveys to document and understand the underwater cultural heritage there in.

“Further, Kenya has endeavoured to train personnel and has one of the best and world renowned underwater archaeologists in the region,” noted Ceaser

Another milestone for Kenya is in the Constitution which recognizes underwater cultural heritage.

The National Museums and Heritage Act (NMHA) of the Laws of Kenya recognizes and provides that any shipwreck more than 50 years old is a declared National monument and therefore protected.

Yet another milestone is the surveys and research works that have been ongoing where many shipwrecks have been discovered.

This includes the all-famous 16th century Ngomeni shipwreck in Malindi which the government is planning to establish as an underwater museum.

The  NMK official noted that Kenya is therefore leading in the region in the underwater cultural heritage programmes and works closely with other institutions including UNESCO in this.

The country also collaborates with China and Italy in the underwater works where surveys for underwater heritage are being undertaken in Malindi and Lamu archipelago.

This conference is however not the first one on underwater archaeology to happen in Kenya.

In March 2015, Kenya hosted a similar workshop in Malindi together with UNESCO for museum professionals from the region.

Again in December 2015, Kenya and UNESCO organized training for sub Saharan Museum professionals in Mombasa.

The professionals were drawn from Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Madagascar and Nigeria.

It was expected therefore that this conference would lead to new perspectives in the protection and promotion of underwater cultural heritage in Sub Saharan Africa and increase collaborations between countries.

By  Hussein  Abdullahi

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