Towns and cultural heritage

Since a few years, the interest in the preservation and enhancement of the historic centres of African towns has increased. It is the case of Saint Louis in Senegal, Grand Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire, Accra in Ghana and Porto-Novo in Benin. Of course, in Libreville, Lagos and elsewhere irreversible damage has been done under the pretext of modernisation, and in total ignorance of UNESCO’s recommendations concerning the preservation of cultural heritage imperilled by public or private works, and the preservation of traditional or historical ensembles and their role in modern life (Recommendations of November 19, 1968 and November 26, 1976).

Public institutions in charge of cultural heritage have little influence on urban dynamics now in progress in Africa. The current tentative changes are due to the progress in the reflection on urban planning and management, together with a will to protect the environment and the personal involvement of a few individuals.

EPA and EAMAU (Ecole africaine des métiers de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme – African school of urbanism and architecture) were closely involved in the current experiment in Porto-Novo. They carried out the study on the rehabilitation of the cultural heritage of the town that was ordered by the Beninese Government and financed by the World Bank. The teachings of the experiment our numerous.

The inventory reveals a variety of elements that run the risk of being irremediably lost. The legal dispositions for the protection of cultural heritage are outdated; they do not include ground law when it is that, in particular the building permit which is one of its components, which determines the appearance of our towns. The problems encountered by individuals or family groups, religious groups, etc., for the maintenance of this heritage are often ignored. In Porto-Novo and Accra the creation of owners’ associations is encouraged…

Old town districts are guardians of collective memory and identity. They are also very poor zones where human sustainable development is the first challenge. The improvement of the quality of life must therefore simultaneously take into account actions for economic revitalisation, as well as safeguarding and enhancement of cultural heritage.

EPA will continue to be involved in this issue in the years to come.

zdroj: ICOMOS Slovakia

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