African Cultural Heritage Resources as a Needle in ‘Environment’ Haystack: Changing Perceptions and Re-thinking African Environmental Conservation

The word ‘Conservation’ in African landscapes is a popular term. However, the word ‘conservation’ is rarely associated with cultural heritage resources present in these geographical spaces.


Because most of southern African protected landscapes conservation strategies are perceived through the lens of nature-based environmental indicators at the exclusion of culture-based environmental indicators. And neither is the word ‘environment’ popularly associated with cultural and heritage resources (see also discussion of this angle at Perhaps of more concern is that cultural and heritage derivatives of the environment are scarcely perceived as resources with a high potential to support environmental conservation in southern Africa, perhaps owing to their derivation from an already altered format (products of human change to nature based environment), as compared to natural resources which are perceived as ‘purely’ derived from nature.

Environment is a term that encompasses all products of life that ever existed in a landscape – including human activity. Yet most environmental conservationists’ perception of environment is nature, to an extent that associating the words “cultural” “cultural heritage”, “heritage” etc with the word conservation does not come easy to most African scholars and practitioners in both the nature (‘environment’) and nurture (cultural) camps

Haystacks in the context of this research are approaches, policies, and other strategies that obscure a focus on aspects of cultural and heritage resources in the broader environmental conservation discourse of African environments. These are diverse, as they range from disciplinary approaches to conservation knowledge production, policy frameworks at both national and international contexts, political status of areas under consideration, economic haystack as well as biophysical substance of landscapes in question.

In most of Africa, a biased focus on conservation minus cultural and heritage resources is to some large extent influenced by a biased focus on tourism (economic) proceeds. A reactionary approach based solely on economics obliviously blur relevance of cultural and heritage resources in environmental conservation.  Such an approach fails to lead to a broader sustainable environmental conservation.

In spite of the haystack outlined earlier, there are various strategies to locate and make known the needle that is cultural and heritage resources. To start with, a change in perception, and perhaps terminology and phrases (semantics) that express the relationship between the so-called environment and cultural heritage resources has to be embarked on. Over time the approach can enable a change in the way the resources are viewed and engaged in relation to what is now termed nature parks and game reserves of African landscapes. One of the perceptions to be addressed is to address “heritage IN environment” rather than “heritage AND environment” phrases.

In addition, tourism by nature places landscapes in a capitalist context, and as such the revenue accrued from nature-tourism makes it difficult for practitioners and governments to consider other values attached to such geographical spaces. It is important that the subject of ‘sustainable interpretation’ of landscapes is considered to allow for broader and more engaging questions to be asked. International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) charter on interpretation (2008) can be helpful in this regard (Read ICOMOS charter application in an African landscape at the following publication:

Overall, an ingrained bias towards a brand of protected areas as nature areas in Africa continues to blur recognition and acknowledgement of cultural and heritage resources as key components of national parks and game reserves environments conservation. A change of approach is necessary as an aim towards sustainable conservation of the environment in its totality.




Dr Susan O. Keitumetse competed for and won two separate Commonwealth scholarships both to University of Cambridge, UK , where she pursued MPhil (Archaeological Heritage Management and Museums) and later on PhD (African cultural heritage and Sustainable Development). Before she had obtained a BA degree (Archaeology and Environmental Sciences) and Post Graduate Diploma in Education (Geography and History) from the University of Botswana. During her post-graduate studies, she combined both environmental science and archaeology disciplines to venture into the broader cultural and heritage management studies with a particular focus on sustainable development and cultural heritage management at the department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. With a view to catalyze a linkage between environment and cultural heritage in Africa, Dr Keitumetse conducted various researches and published works that illustrate the relevance of cultural and heritage resources for the broader environmental conservation. She works at the University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute as a researcher in cultural heritage and tourism where she undertakes applied research in areas such as the Okavango inland Delta World Heritage Site and Kalahari areas. Of particular note is her developing conservation model of Community-Based Cultural Heritage Resources Management (COBACHREM) to guide local communities and practitioners’ initiatives towards sustainable use of cultural heritage resources for social development. Dr Keitumetse is an associate editor of the journal Environment, Development, and Sustainability published by Springer. She also sits in the editorial board of the international journal of community archaeology and heritage, published by Taylor and Francis, as well as the International Journal of Heritage and Sustainable Development published by Green Lines Institute, Portugal. Dr Keitumetse has both national and international experience from across the world. She has won academic grants for research fellowships in international institutions that include; the Rockefeller Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA; the Watson Scholar Fellowship at Brown University in Rhode Island, USA and the Wenner-Gren Foundation research grant for research on ‘historical archaeology of marginal landscapes of eastern Botswana’. Outside academia and in international development Dr Keitumetse has worked and continues to work with institutions such as UNESCO as an expert advisor, examiner, facilitator, and consultant within the intangible cultural heritage section. She has corporate governance experience from African government parastatal institution dealing with environment, heritage, tourism and land use planning. These are derived from her tenure as a board director of Botswana Tourism Organisation for six years, where she also chaired a quality assurance committee of the board dealing with grading and certifying tourism accommodation. Her overall research interests are in the areas of sustainable development and cultural heritage conservation; historical archaeology; community heritage management; communal cultural identities; heritage tourism; heritage and protected areas; international management of cultural heritage; amongst others. Dr Susan Keitumetse has published extensively in the field of cultural heritage conservation and management in Africa, Her works comprise of peer-reviewed articles in international journals; peer-reviewed book chapters; refereed conference proceedings; and technical reports in international periodicals, magazines and newspapers. These can be accessed through search engines such as Google Scholar and LinkedIn. *********************************************************************************************
This entry was posted in INTERNATIONAL ISDUES & DEBATES. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s