When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Tourists visit the House of Slave on Goree Island, Senegal
Tourists visit the House of Slave on Goree Island, Senegal
Chloé Maurel*

-Analysis-

PARIS — Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has maintained a "World Heritage List" of sites that it deems to have an exceptional value.

This list, which aims to preserve the world's cultural and natural heritage, has sparked global tensions and drawn criticism that it doesn't give adequate attention to the southern hemisphere, including its including less than 10% of sites from Africa. Mechtild Rössler, director of the heritage department at UNESCO, acknowledges the shortfall: "Developing countries often lack efficient institutions to support this process."

"The cost of applying for a site to be added to the list is very high. You need a certain expertise to piece together such a file," says an official at the World Heritage Centre between 2001 and 2012, who requested anonymity. "African countries lack that (expertise). A listed site must also then be administered according to a management plan and must be preserved at the government's expense. But many poor countries have neither the expertise nor the money to do that."

In Ethiopia, the Simien National Park was added to the UNESCO list in 1978 — Photo: Leonard Floyd

The official added that sometimes a country's population can be opposed to a site being listed because its priority is to have hospitals, schools and infrastructure. "There's a lot at stake between national and international prestige, politics, economics and even geopolitics," she said.

Adding a site to the list can adversely affect a part of the population. In Ethiopia, for instance, the Simien National Park was added to the UNESCO list in 1978 after a request by the late Emperor Haile Selassie, which helped preserve the landscape of the heavily populated mountain range. Hunting and slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by people living there were banned, making it harder for residents to survive.

In the 1980s, the Simien park became a political issue under the rule of dictator Mengistu. The land had become a refuge for opponents of the regime. In 1986, UNESCO experts visiting the site believed that local villagers were damaging the environment. Mengistu's administration eagerly pushed for their displacement because the site had become a hiding ground for "rebels'.

This Ethiopian national park is just one example of what historian Martin Melosi calls "eco-racism" and which PhD student Guillaume Blanc describes in his thesis as the "prolongation of post-colonial White domination over Africans."

The "Door Of No Return" in Benin — Photo: Shubert Ciencia

In South Africa, the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park was added to the World Heritage List in 2000 for both its natural and cultural legacy — the mountains as well as the cave and rock paintings left by the hunter-gatherer San people over the centuries.

This recognition was pursued by the government, which left the local population out of the decision. Tourists visiting the site have little consideration or understanding of the heritage of the indigenous population. What's more, the site was closed for sacred ceremonies that traditionally took place there; locals were forced to relocate.

The site's "UNESCOization" translated into the imposition of a Western vision, based on preservation, to the detriment of the vision and life of the native population, as analyzed by Mélanie Duval and Benjamin Smith.

In 1994, UNESCO launched the "Slave Route" project. The route starts in the West African country of Benin, in the coastal town of Ouidah, which was one of the most important slave ports in Africa. UNESCO's itinerary includes locations related to the slave trade, such as the "Tree of Forgetfulness', "Auctions Square" and the "Door of No Return".

But as historian Gaetano Garci notes, none of these stages and sites selected by UNESCO correspond to any historical reality. There was never a "square" for the trade of enslaved men and women. Slaves were sold at the entrance of slave traders' homes, says historian Robin Law.

The former World Heritage Centre official says that UNESCO considers Gorée Island in the West African country Senegal as a major site on the Slave Route — another mistake.

At a time when tourism is becoming a massive global phenomenon involving more than 1 billion people and generating $1,400 billion in revenue every year, it's worth considering that the concept of "world heritage" may not be as apolitical and consensual as the term suggests.


*Chloé Maurel is a historian

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Future

Injecting Feminism Into Science Is A Good Thing — For Science

Feminists have generated a set of tools to make science less biased and more robust. Why don’t more scientists use it?

As objective as any man

Anto Magzan/ZUMA
Rachel E. Gross

-Essay-

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a mystery played out across news headlines: Men, it seemed, were dying of infection at twice the rate of women. To explain this alarming disparity, researchers looked to innate biological differences between the sexes — for instance, protective levels of sex hormones, or distinct male-female immune responses. Some even went so far as to test the possibility of treating infected men with estrogen injections.

This focus on biological sex differences turned out to be woefully inadequate, as a group of Harvard-affiliated researchers pointed out earlier this year. By analyzing more than a year of sex-disaggregated COVID-19 data, they showed that the gender gap was more fully explained by social factors like mask-wearing and distancing behaviors (less common among men) and testing rates (higher among pregnant women and health workers, who were largely female).

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ