By Fridah Mlemwa
Have you ever visited a museum? If yes, when is the last time you did so?
Strong condemnation against destruction of cultural heritage in civil wars across Africa and the world, and recent news of an iconic Ugandan National Museum receiving funding following years of neglect got me asking, who still visits the museum?
Reports say a high number of museums in Africa lie semi-derelict, with no climate control, poorly trained staff and little security.
Additionally, there has been more talk of getting western nations to return artificats illegally taken from Africa. Such as the directive by the French President Emmanuel Macron asking for the return of plundered African art taken during the colonial era. However Western curators argue that countries of origin don’t have the museum infrastructure required to keep the artifacts safe, and adequately cared for, unlike developed countries with their state of the art facilities.
There are approximately 50 to 60,000 museums worldwide according to a report by UNESCO in 2019. And some media reports say a high number of museums in Africa lie semi-derelict, with no climate control, poorly trained staff and little security.
Richard Hemba, a Ugandan expert in national heritage to get further information. The first thing he addressed was explaining the kind of museums there are in the continent. He said, that we have national museums, then we have what they refer to as community museum. Some of them of course among the nationals are world heritage now because probably they have been taken over by UNESCO and are being supported for sustainability purposes.Clarifying that Museums are not usually in structures, sometimes people think a museum should be in structure but it may not be, but a museum could be the item itself, could be that artifact, could be the literature, so even a virtual kind of museum could be appropriate.
But do Africans value their museums?
“I can say yes and no, because of several reasons, the elite people don’t value their museums, because of learnings they have heard about modern culture and the way they are living now, so they think that their culture or their culture value before basically is not up to date. So you find that, people who are within that thinking that we have a value system that considers our lineage, maybe our cultural background, and so they are rooted in that culture. They prefer, to protect, promote and probably to conserve their culture. In Africa I think the challenge we have is that we have not taken time to document. And to bring a understanding how some of these items are important in our past or in the future,” said Richard Hamba, programme officer, TEENS (Training, Education and Empowerment for Neighbourhood Sustainability).
Well then, how can Africans protect and promote their museums?
“For starters it must be deliberate kind of effort, to educate people within our local communities, especially starting with the children or youth. Through education programmes, provide a couple of activities that can keep them actively involved and also have them access culture in different ways, as users but also as promoters. The other thing we also need to continue showcasing, we need to showcase some of these items attaching value to them,” said Richard Hamba, programme officer, TEENS (Training, Education and Empowerment for Neighbourhood Sustainability)
Moreover, economic issues are increasingly emerging as key issues for museums, both in terms of their funding and in terms of the economic role they can play. And our expert Richard explained that museums seek to fundraise from communities, research organizations and company donations through their social responsibilites programmes.But also called on governments to create and fund cultural funds.
From a poll on twitter asking, ‘There is at least one museum in every African city. Would you include visiting a museum as part of your trip or travel itinerary?’ 81 percent of the 53 responses said yes. So cultural month May 2020 create time to appreciate your national heritage.
For all matters travel, hit me up on twitter @fmlemwa