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Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Program Name

Switzerland: International Relations, Organizations, and Social Justice


Archaeological associations and development agencies alike are celebrating the recent effort by the World Heritage Committee to inscribe as many African sites as fast as it can onto its List recognizing the heritage with the highest universal value to our collective human history. While it seems an obvious move of equality, in reality, this flurry of inscription is doing untold damage to African sites. Issues of local involvement in site management have not been resolved or streamlined, so site designation exposes communities to degradation of their traditions and values. Likewise, traditional management practices have not been institutionalized, often stripping sites with WHS protection of their historical guardians. The inscription process diverts limited international heritage funds to a few sites—specifically, to the nomination materials for inscription of those site on the List—and away from empowering African professionals to participate equally in the world archaeological and conservationist dialogues. This is denying cultural protection on the African continent the same right to self-determination that most other regions enjoy. In addition, archaeological inquiry the world over continues to lack the diversity of perspective that is required for accurate interpretation. The Committee needs to turn its priorities away from inscription to supporting solid and community-based systems of management throughout Africa. Only when the continent has the foundation to decide the fate of its own heritage should the Committee return its attention to site inscription.


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