ICH in Africa: Actions are needed

imgOnce Amadou Hampâté Bâ (An African writer and ethnologist) says : “In Africa, when an elder dies, a library burns” how many libraries full of intangible cultural heritage of this continent is burning every single day. African history in a large part is oral as a large part of its culture is intangible as well, that why Mr. Ba compares in this quote between people and libraries. This heritage didn’t know yet its way to preservation and safeguarding as well as required. The colonization period the continent knew with some current issues in the educational systems and the government’s policies are among the most important reasons.

Awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) has recently grown, due to the promotional efforts of UNESCO and its Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). But these efforts cannot be translated on the ground in Africa. Although the attempts the civil society is working on in partnership with regional and international organizations the achievements are still far away to be enough.


  • ICH is not included as one of tourism main pillars.
  • National policies and strategies are not considering the role ICH safeguarding and promotion plays for the community development, especially the local authorities.
  • The formal and informal education systems are not including the ICH of the communities as elements, and there is a lack of extracurricular activities about ICH.
  • The lack of expertise and capacity building activities

One of the major challenges which are keeping the continent at the same level about ICH safeguarding is the fact that, its case is always treated in a global context without putting into consideration its particularities and the regional factors.


Africa has a significant cultural intangible heritage, its history and social practices and rituals have been always documented orally and safeguarded in the generations’ memories. The descendents take it from their fathers. Many elements are already registered as ICH at UNESCO (The Ahellil of Gourara, The Oral Heritage of Gelede, he Gbofe of Afounkaha - the Music of the Transverse Trumps of the Tagbana Community, The Al-Sirah Al-Hilaliyyah Epic, The Gule Wamkulu, Barkcloth Making in Uganda…) but the elements which are not and which are disappearing everyday seem to be more.

The key step to be taken is to treat ICH in Africa in the African context where many factors and elements have crucial roles to play.