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Gambia Culture Minister Tips Heritage As Next Gold Mine For African Countries

By Yunus S Saliu

The Gambia Minister of Tourism and Culture (MOTC), Honourable Hamat NK Bah, stated at the opening of the just concluded Regional Workshop on Strengthening Operational Networks to Combat Theft and Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property in West Africa held in Senegal that the next gold mine for all, more so, African countries that have all the heritage resources to attract the world such as the Goree Islands, Stone Circles or pyramids, and sacred forests and festivals.

Minister Hamat NK Bah was invited as a speaker and guest of honour at the opening ceremony of the regional workshop which kicked off on the 12th and ended on the 14th of December 2023 in Dakar, Senegal, urged everyone in the heritage sector to double up efforts towards combating the theft, illicit transfer and support the restitution of cultural artifacts back to where they belong, noting ‘African precious heritage objects remain in Foreign Museums and with the collectors.’

“We have no access to them and we cannot valorize them or turn them into income-generating means,” he added.

Minister Bah who had applauded Director Sanga and his efficient team at the UNESCO Regional Office, indeed described the UNESCO Dakar Office as the most effective and responsive UNESCO Office on the African continent and “We in The Gambia can attest to that and proud of your good work and support.”

Since these heritage resources are in foreign hands, he said they cannot be used to boost the country’s cultural identities and image, “this is a pathetic situation which we cannot allow to fester.”

Most disturbingly, he said, is the removal of African heritage resources from the continent which continues to happen, and “African cultural objects are being siphoned through many illegal ways such as trafficking, smuggling, false declaration nurtured by porous borders and corruption and with lack of capacity to protect the heritage.

Meanwhile, the Minister dilated on what The Gambia has done in the most recent days in contributing to the ideals of the workshop, this included submission of the Instruments of Ratification of the 1970 Convention to the UNESCO Director-General in Paris following the ratification by the Gambia National Assembly of the Convention, and also at the same day at UNESCO Paris the Gambia submitted the Instruments of Ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage

With all these ratifications, Minister Bah noted that The Gambia is fully poised to protect its heritage and get its cultural objects prostituted, and “with encouragement from Ministry, a new museum and mausoleum is being built for the memorial of our founding President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and we are eager to have it ready soon to be able to keep any restituted object in optimal conditions. And in this battle, we will continue to work at the bilateral level with our friends in Senegal as espoused in the Kaffrine Agreement.”

Moving on, he added that The Gambia-Senegal cultural ties share heritage not only the Stone Circles and Kankurang but also languages, rituals, and practices.

Heritage, according to Minister Bah, is indeed the next gold mine for all, more so, African countries that have all the heritage resources to attract the world such as the Goree Islands, Stone Circles or pyramids, and sacred forests and festivals.

Meanwhile, at the Dakar workshop, the UNESCO 1970 Convention Secretary publicly thanked The Gambia for being the 38th African Country to ratify the Convention.

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Yunus S Saliu

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