The aim of this article is to provide a new way for audiences to interrogate the relevance of heritage management for our contemporary needs, and perhaps in future policies call for more robust engagements in the area of heritage management in southern African countries.
On 30th September Botswana celebrated its fifty years since independence rule. Shortly afterwards Lesotho on the 04th October celebrated its 5o years since post-colonial rule. The celebrations were mainly focused on achievements made over these years with a possibility of what could be the next steps towards a sustainable growth of the two countries. In villages people focused on fanfare surrounding their cultural activities, remembering, in a rather nostalgic way, their folklife and folklore activities, feasting on traditional food, as well as performing and dancing cultural tunes.
International heritage conventions and heritage relevance in post-colonial African states
Both Botswana and Lesotho have ratified the two most important conventions that assist nation states to manage cultural heritage in their countries. The popular convention among African states is the 1972 World Heritage Convention (ratified by Lesotho in 2003 and ratified by Botswana in 1998). This convention is responsible for the popularity of the world heritage brand that is now a global world phenomena. However, African countries are yet to know how to apply this convention for their country’s social and economic benefits because of various hiccups: Chief among them being that although the convention provides a brand, its origin and cultural context is more European than African since it was initially coined with visible monuments in mind, such as Greece’s Acropolis, England’s Stonehenges and Westminster Abbey’s,Germany’s Aachen Cathedral; Italy’s Colosseum; to mention a few. A later leaning went to sites of archaeological nature (archaeology also being a discipline that is somehow foreign to African context s of cultural preservation-i.e. no digging of ancestors etc) but also archaeology for colonial African meant a focus, by colonial scholars, on politically safe heritage sites such as South African’s Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, Koobi Fora Prehistoric sites. However, the post-colonial era in Africa is failing to dislodge more diverse heritages still, and a trend towards nature landscapes emanated from RSA which due to apartheid had to stick to the politically safe sites such as the The Kruger National Park. Countries like Botswana and Lesotho, blindly bench-marking on RSA’s apartheid motivated choice of heritages, have gone on to also focus on prehistoric sites and nature labels in their utilization of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. This is evidenced by Lesotho’s listing of Maloti Drankensburg mountains. Although unlike the Okavango Delta the site is listed as mixed site (both natural and cultural), the narrative is purely on the natural aspects. The already acknowledged cultural aspect is expressed through the safe prehistoric archaeology alluded to above. The examples from Botswana of the two listings of Tsodilo World Heritage site (prehistoric) and the listing of Okavango Delta World Heritage site as a natural site despite its rich well known cultural aspects that could have seen it listed as as mixed site (as permitted by the 1972 convention) exhibits the blind adoption of international conventions with very little application to country contexts, leading to jubilees with internationally recognised sites that are void of national communal identities. These leanings toward safer political options that served other countries’s political agendas of monuments and political systems such as apartheid and colonial scholarship (not characteristic of countries like Lesotho and Botswana), has made it difficult for these countries to show any difference in terms of utilising their 50 years of indepence in bringing out their different and more relevant historical archaeologies in their localities. They are still celebrating 50 years with references to colonial help, rather than references to how they have moved away from the colonial heritage to their post-colonial narratives that could be shown by listing of sites that showcases their communities’s identities and their evolution into the present post-indepence era. A lot therefore still needs to be done as regards bringing international conventions to the relevance of the owners of the landscapes that are being colored with international brands. The hope is that the 100 years post-independence celebration will have different offerings on the site listing basket so that international visitors can be offered a more diverse menu when they come to African landscapes, at the same time African governments and communities making use of their cultural comparative advantage of diverse culture to strengthen their local economies. The arrival of the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage after 31 years of international political consumption of cultural divergent cultural heritage offers some hope to African cultures recognition of their intangible cultures. However, the danger now is on separating the two conventions per site. The most practical approach for African would have been to automatically overlay intangible aspects of cultural heritage onto the likes of Tsodilo and Maloti but it is not working like that. Every convention for itself, hence the hiccup for expression of African landscapes in their entirety. African nation-states, being dependent on international conventions, still have a long way to go to benefit fully on ratifications of conventions such as the UNESCO’s 1972 and the 2003 afore-mentioned. For a more robust listing and discussion of the various cultural related conventions, read chapter 2 of my book as it discusses the nuances surrounding international convention adoption and African heritage management in the present.The book can be found at the following site: http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319320151
Harnessing heritage towards BOTS60 and LESOTHO 60
For both Botswana and Lesotho, the countries have rich natural resources that are nevertheless conflated with a rich historical heritage. We could be seeing a booming expression of all the country eras in deliberately crafted tourism museums that entice an international traveler the same way European landscapes do today. Too much blind following of foreign indicators of value assessments has long required that international conventions be adapted to African context where necessary, otherwise they continue to deny the diverse African heritages visibility in landscapes that are otherwise seen as archaeological or natural. A country like Lesotho with massive water-bearing mountains has potential for a water theme park in its various towns and cities, complete with communal histories tied to the mountains all contained in bigger and better tourism museums for economic growth.
Fig 1:Botswana mine company, Debswana showcased one of its old trucks along a main road for travellers to view as a token show of Bot50 celebrations. The economy of Botswana being solely told through mining means a mining tourism of high value could long have been planned for to supplement the high-paying tourism offering taking place in Botswana
Botswana’s historical economic existence is based solely on its mining story, but this heritage is not expressed boldly anywhere near its very small museums. Mining museums of the size of the newly refurbished African American Museum in Washington DC, could be a common site in Botswana cities as well as open museums where these mines (full of folklore and folklife) are located. Debswana mine in Letlhakane, perhaps realising they had to be known somehow, opted for a big truck alongside one of the main roads, if anything to have a mark of some sort (see picture above). A much more structured expression of heritage that brings economic benefits exists, and countries such as Botswana and Lesotho still have a window of opportunity to tap onto this potential.