African wetlands and cultural heritage: Enhancing conservation and diversifying participation

February 02nd was annual World Wetlands Day, carrying a theme of “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction“. A number of issues come to mind when thinking of risks to wetlands, with the most common being climate change.  However, just as much as we think of biophysical risks to these spectacular landscapes, we have to apportion a similar concern to the soft side of risks, being the prevailing disconnect of wetlands with people’s social and cultural values inherent within the protected area model.

Okavango Delta World Heritage Site

Suryeing cultural heritage of wetlands

This is significant in most of sub-Saharan Africa, where setting aside of landscapes is seen by most governments as a step forward in sustainable preservation. But does this bring sustainable conservation?

In my work that looks at overlaying cultural values in otherwise wilderness and and wildlife landscapes such as the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site, I have observed a risk created by a biased focus on biophysical conservation, at the exclusion, or rather ignorance of the socio-cultural and psycho-social values tied to these landscapes. Detailed discussions of these examples can be found in my earlier publications on the subject at the following journal article ( 

and a book chapter  (

The prevailing approaches to ‘conservation’ (it is rather preservation), are nurturing sub-Saharan communities to become indifferent to the landscapes because they do not recognise and acknowledge local populations’ inherent identities that already exists in these wetlands landscapes (now protected areas), and can be brought out through archaeological, ethnological, anthropological focus to conservation.

Most ‘conservationists’ focus only on the biophysical landscape, the wilderness and wildlife values of these landscapes at the exclusion of the socio-cultural and psycho-social values that carry potential to compel communities to perceive themselves as connected to the areas and therefore inherently responsible for them, with or without wildlife profits emanating from business venture agreements.    For African protected wetlands areas the connections of people and landscape and consequently a nurture of responsibility can be achieved by overlaying the archaeologies, ethnologies, and folklores and folklifes associated with the people that inhabited these landscapes in the past and in the present, and showing these as a package of what constitute the overal use of the landscape, whether in tourism or simple subsistence uses.                                                                                                               Currently what transpires in most protected African wetlands is the emphasis on disconnecting the people heritage (socio-cultural and psyscho-social) from the biophysical heritage, and calling all that conservation when in fact it is preservation. This is the same practice that see listing of wetlands such as Okavango Delta, solely as ‘nature’ environments when in fact they are ‘mixed (nature and culture’ value environments. This in itself does not enhance the sustainability of the landscape but rather creates either a nurtured indifference to the landscape by the people as they are disconnected, or creates a resentment borne from the disconnection that translates to over-harvesting and/or poaching within the landscapes where access is finally secured in measures that later on translate as illegal.

The sustainable approach will be to nurture the people’s connection to the landscape by recognising, acknowledging, overlaying, juxtaposing and fully interpreting their identities in the new mediums that have now emerged as ways through which these landscapes are now interpreted. Tourism is one of the most popular mediums, but not necessarily the only and best medium. More in-depth discussions of the non-sustainable nature of disconnecting people (cultures) through the protected area management approach can be read in chapter 2 of the book titled African cultural heritage Conservation and Management: Theory and Practice from Southern Africa (2016), available at the following  web-link:

Therefore as we ponder on what constitute “risk” to wetlands on Wetlands day 2017, it is not enough to all be talking of climate change, which is the obvious mention. I would like for us to move away from the biophysical risk and focus on the cultural-psycho-social disconnect risk which leads to socio-political issues relating to the use of wetlands in sub-Saharan African in particular where they appear in protected areas.                                           In our segregated disciplinary approaches, we see African wetlands for their biophysical value, which in the modern economic centered governances automatically translates to tourism revenue and more economic investments. But we fail to look at what protected wetlands’ future is if it is disconnected from the people surrounding it, being local populations. The book on  ‘African Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management (2016)  ( brings out discourses on how international conventions and disciplinary approaches are fuelling these disconnects instead of using cultural values, inherent amongst local peoples, to enhance conservation of these landscapes by recognising and overlaying cultural values in protected wetlands of southern Africa. This can further add value to the tourism package that is given so much attention in African protected landscapes.



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Table of contents (9 chapters)….

9783319320151 (3)

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Growing conservation links: Heritage, environment, and sustainability literature

The link between conservaiton and heritage (in particular cultural heritage) is gradually gaining traction. Since 2005 I have produced literature in the form of scholarly publications illustrating how failure to link cultural heritage with environmental conservation by both nature and culture practitioners and scholars is creating a shortfall when it comes to conservation of the overall environment. This is largely the case in African contexts. Consequently the literature on this same subject has also been thin on the ground.

I am however comforted to be reviewing literature from scholars that shows they are now hot on the heels of linking environmental conservation with heritage conservation, showing that the light is now turning to shine on this important link. In particular the following two books that i recently reviewed are worth looking at:

#1 - – Perceptions of sustainability in heritage studies (Volume edited by Albert, M. 2015)My full review of this book forthcoming in journal Conservation of Monuments and Archaeological Sites (

  • In summary the volume constitutes 18 contributions that are grouped into four themes of policy, theory, resources management, practice and methods. There are four sections that describe, discuss and illustrate the topic content. In my review of the book i opine that “…the most challenging aspect of sourcing out sustainability in heritage studies lies at the informal existence…that are nonetheless facing formal frameworks such as the World Heritage conventions and others.”                                                                                                                                    *Access full review @


#2. – Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Kenya (volume edited by Deisser A., and Njuguna M. (2016)

Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Kenya Cover

**My full review of this book forthcoming in International Journal of Heritage Studies (

  • In summary the book volume has 14 chapters by a variety of authors, enough to cover African heritage, be it tangible or intangible, cultural or natural. In my review i opine that “Cultural heritage is not yet acknowledged and recognized as part and parcel of conservation policy in African landscapes, and the battle to place it in a visible spot is at an infant stage. More and more researchers like…in this volume are needed to cement the relevance of African heritage in modern day social development.”


*Access full review @

If you are a scholar of heritage studies who wants to see differences in approach to both natural and cultural heritage conservation, not just management, get yourselves the copies.


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OPPORTUNITIES: Post-docs hiring- University of Helsinki, Finland

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Climate Risk Research Awards.

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The Eco‐tourism of Cultural Heritage Management (ECT‐CHM): Linking Heritage and ‘Environment’ in the Okavango Delta Regions of Botswana


The principles of eco‐tourism allude to the importance of socio‐cultural and psycho‐social aspects in natural resources management. However, approaches to natural resources management are more often addressed in isolation from cultural and heritage resources. For Botswana, this loophole is illustrated within a community‐based natural resources management (CBNRM) programme that focuses exclusively on natural and neglects cultural resources. Botswana Tourism Policy is another example. 1 [1] Republic of Botswana, Tourism Policy. View all notes I argue that these management approaches negatively impact on sustainable conservation and development of both natural and cultural resources. A case study of a community‐based organisation (CBO) called Sankuyo Tshwaragano Management Trust (STMT) is used to illustrate that the current CBNRM programme originates from a management failure to perceive cultural and heritage resources as components of the broader ‘environment’ and hence neglects the significance of alternative resources in nature tourism. An operational point of departure for an Ecotourism of Cultural Heritage Management approach is identified using a Community Based Cultural Heritage Resources Mangement (COBACREM) model, and an operational definition of eco‐tourism that acknowledges alternative resources is suggested.

***To access the full article click the link below:
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CONFERENCE: Participatory governance in Culture

“Participatory Governance in Culture: Exploring Practices, Theories and Policies.DO IT TOGETHER”
22nd – 24th November 2017, Rijeka, Croatia


Organised by Kultura Nova Foundation, in partnership with Rijeka 2020 LLC and in collaboration with the European Cultural Foundation as part of the “Approaches to Participatory Governance of Cultural Institutions” project supported by UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity,

The conference is also supported by the regional intergovernmental forum Central European Initiative.

Scholars, researchers, theoreticians, cultural operators, artists, practitioners, activists, policymakers and decision-makers are invited to submit paper, presentation or panel proposals for the Conference. Proposals from all relevant disciplines will be considered, provided that they make an original contribution to the theme of participatory governance in culture.

The necessity of new models of governance in culture has become a European and global issue in recent decades. Traditional public governance and market-oriented governance systems have increasingly proven inadequate to respond to the complex realities of policy challenges and ongoing transformations in the socio-economic environment, encompassing the needs of cultural professionals and artists, audiences and local communities. Due to public governance deficiencies and market failures, many cultural initiatives around the globe are introducing new perspectives that challenge traditional governance models and are experimenting with innovative approaches to governance surpassing the conventional and representative institutional frameworks. In effect, these diverse examples demonstrate reorganizations in existing structures and regimes of governance through practices and actions of participatory and collaborative governance that entail non-hierarchical forms and institutional formats of interaction and relations between public, private and civil society stakeholders. These institutional changes open up an understanding of culture as shared resources and position the practicing of culture within a commons perspective.

GO TO LINK ABOVE for more details…..



cropped-9783319320151-32.jpgToday, 05th May, is African world heritage day. This is as observed by international organisations such as UNESCO (refer As we celebrate this day the main question that may come to many is what is African world heritage? How does it differ from African heritage? What is heritage in the era of international management? What was heritage before the likes of UNESCO etc?

Although heritage can be said to be a common good in Africa, there is a disconnect with the understanding primarily because in these modern times it is looked at from an global perspective (for further discussion read   rather than from a local perspective (, making the heritage asset look like a diamond in the Kalahari desert. Whereas heritage is in abundance at local contexts and could be easily harnessed for issues of belonging in the global world, innovation, enterprising, to make it beneficial in solving modern day challenges and in harnessing modern day opportunities, Africans are stalled by the lack of understanding of the management skeleton that heritage is currently placed under. As such it does appear as if it not helping or appear as a none-relevant resource in modern day African opportunities and challenges.

How then can we make it possible for African heritage to be beneficial where it matters?

  1. Heritage beyond the excavation pit of archaeology (

The development of cultural heritage management in particular in African universities started with a Eurocentric view nurtured by an Archaeological focus. Whereas archaeology itself is a necessary component of building up African heritages, it is however paramount to acknowledge that African heritage by natures goes “…beyond the excavation pit of archaeology as well as beyond any other disciplinary tag as this may deny the diverse characteristic of cultural heritage make-up of the region.” (Keitumetse 2016: 08). Indpth discussions @

2. Heritage overlay in various areas of African life and development

The segmented manner in which natural resources and cultural resources are viewed as separate entities for separate spaces has to be re-looked and aligned accordingly. This is particularly so in most of Africa’s protected areas of wilderness and wildlife that are lacking in most components that could make African heritage spaces diverse in both economic and social aspects. Read in-depth insights on this view

3. Heritage before and beyond tourism or economic benefit

There is need for Africa to benefit from its resources, but there is also need to conserve and develop African heritage for its own value that may not necessarily be economic (tourism) based. This aspect is largely neglected particularly in the tourism era of most African states. Heritage, in all its entirety is valuable without economics, and perspectives such as tourism come after the fact. Read more insights on this view

4. Community and Public heritage conservation and management

International conservation has for a long time relayed on the ‘convenient indigenous’ mention as representative of community in heritage resources management. However, more and more research is bringing out the fact that there are various forms of communities that relate with either natural or cultural heritage. Thus a convenient mention of indigenous communities in international conventions does not do enough justice to encouraging a wider community participation in African heritage management. If anything it creates a seamless envy and conflict with other autochthonous communities in African spaces. Furthermore a narrow focus on African community of heritage as soley indigenous only causes the issue of community participation in African heritage to seem as a glossy tag. Thus models need to be devised that cover wider community conceptions and also that compel a meaningful local engagement. Such models as Community-Based Cultural Heritage Management (COBACHREM) will enable a more people diverse and resource specific approach from the beginning to end of participation. Read about COBACHREM @

Therefore as we celebrate African heritage day, there is need to reflect on these various issues that are being brought to the forefront by the constantly evolving needs and pressures befalling African heritage resources and heritage spaces.

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