ECOWAS ministers of culture adopt a regional action plan for the return of african cultural artefacts to their countries of origin18 Jul, 2019
Cotonou, 18 July 2019. Ministers of Culture of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have just adopted the 2019-2023 Regional Action Plan for the return of African cultural artefacts to their countries of origin, and the Regional Cultural Policy Document along with its Action Plan. This took place during a regional meeting held on 17 July 2019 in Cotonou, Benin.
The Regional Action Plan for the return of African cultural artefacts to their countries of origin is a document that sets out the strategic guidelines for regional and joint action, particularly with regard to protection, enhancement, legal framework, financing and governance. The plan also contains six (6) strategic objectives and a number of actions and activities. The other highlight of the Cotonou meeting was the validation of the Regional Cultural Policy Document together with its action plan, designed to promote and safeguard the regional cultural heritage and enhance the professional development of artists and cultural stakeholders.
Following the validation of the two documents, the Heads of Ministries of Culture recommended their adoption by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers and the Authority of Heads of State and Government.
During the meeting, the ministers were also briefed on the ECOWAS Prize for Excellence. They also took note of progress in the organisation of the 1st West African Culture Festival (ECOFEST), as it relates to its format, cost and the level of resource mobilisation.
At the end of the Cotonou meeting, it was recommended to the ECOWAS Commission to set up a mechanism for the safekeeping and subsequent return of endangered cultural artefacts from one threatened country to another, if they cannot be placed in a more secure place in the country. Likewise, a regional mechanism should be established to collect statistical data on culture.
Several other recommendations were also made on enhancing the effectiveness of the regional mechanism for the protection of intellectual property, the establishment of strong vocational training institutes in the culture sector, boosting cooperation and partnerships between cultural institutions and finally increasing Community funding for culture. The ECOWAS Ministers also recommended that the role of culture in national development policies be strengthened and that ICT should be factored into cultural policies in order to stimulate young people’s interest in cultural issues.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Professor Leopoldo Amado, ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, recalled the importance of the Cotonou meeting for the African continent and West Africa in particular. He specifically stated that: “This meeting is taking place at a time when the role of culture for development has been recognised internationally, contributing 7% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product even before 2002 and thus creating jobs on par with other strategic areas. Unfortunately, this interest is failing to come to fruition on our continent”.
The meeting was officially opened by Honourable Aurélien A. Agbénonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Benin, who thanked the ECOWAS Commission for the actions and initiatives undertaken to promote the development of culture in West Africa. He also underscored his country’s pioneering role with regard to the return of cultural artefacts and the progress so far. Honourable Agbénonci reaffirmed the commitment of the Government of Benin to make culture one of the driving forces of his country’s growth and work towards regaining the collective memory through the return of cultural artefacts to Africa.
The ceremony also featured speeches by Niger’s Minister of Cultural Renaissance, Arts and Modernisation, Honourable Assoumana Malam Issa, whose country currently chairs the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, Professor Filiga Michel Sawadogo, UEMOA Commissioner for Human Development and Yao Ydo, Director of UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa in Abuja.
The UEMOA Commission and the UNESCO Regional Office commended the excellent relationship between their respective institutions and ECOWAS, particularly regarding joint initiatives for the safeguarding of African cultural heritage in general and that of West Africa in particular.
Prior to the commencement of the meeting, a minute of silence was observed in memory of His Excellency Marcel De Souza, former President of the ECOWAS Commission, who died on 17 July 2019 in Paris, France. He received tributes for his qualities and dedication to integration and sub-regional development.