Advanced Search                   

What is ICOM

Governing Bodies


Become a member

  Committees Calendar
  International Museum Day
  General Conferences
  Fighting Illicit Traffic
  Capacity Building
  Community Involvement
  Cultural Tourism
  Intangible Heritage
  Risk Management




Africom Activities 1991-1999

International Council of African Museums AFRICOM is a non-governmental, autonomous and pan-African organization of museums (NGO) created in october 1999 in Lusaka, Zambia.
Professional training

This covers three fields: Educational services - Management - Inventories

Museum Education Project of Africa (MEPOA)

Following a feasibility study carried out jointly by AFRICOM and SADCAMM, and a meeting in Bellaggio (Italy) in 1996 training needs were assessed and objectives defined:

  • Using the educational potential of museums for the benefit of communities by developing special tools, training the teaching staff in museums and offering suitable career prospects
  • Making a plea for including museum education in all training programmes.

A long-term strategy was defined to set up museum education programmes in universities and museums, and to strengthen collaboration and partnerships with other institutions.

Contacts with universities: The University of Kinshasa responded favourably to AFRICOM's proposal. Its anthropology section has drawn up a curriculum that meets MEPOA's objectives. Other contacts are being made.

Training workshop: In June 1999 a training workshop was organised in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) to develop innovative methods and techniques to suit local traditions and practices, and to train young women to use them. Thirty participants worked on case studies such as the Village Museum in Tanzania and the Mobile Museum in Botswana.

Learning kits: A project for designing learning kits is currently under way in collaboration with other cultural institutions, in particular the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Management and Administration

A training workshop on museum management and administration was organised in conjunction with the National Heritage Institute of Tunisia in Hammamet in May 1995. The workshop was attended by museum managers from 16 African countries, and focused on three main themes: personnel, collections and financing.


Following the publication of the handbook on standardising inventories (Handbook of Standards. Documenting African Collections) AFRICOM's policy has been to promote the standards and have them adopted by all museums. The policy is based on using pilot museums as resource centres to take care of training in their respective countries and regions, and, during regional meetings, organising training sessions on how to use the standards.

Three training sessions were organised for the purpose:

  • In Morocco in 1997 (with participants from North Africa, Mauritania and the Arab countries). The workshop provided the opportunity for translating the Handbook of Standards into Arabic.
  • In Nigeria in 1998, for West African countries, hosted by the Musée National in Mali. Prior to the session two Nigerians had been trained in Bamako in 1997.
  • In Angola in 1998 for Central Africa.
  • In Kenya sessions have been organised at a national level.

AFRICOM first promoted exhibition projects on transnational subjects calling upon the existing resources and collections in several countries in the same region.
AFRICOM defined a strategy to promote travelling exhibitions, to help develop suitable methodologies, to encourage international North-South cooperation and to involve African professionals in exhibition projects on Africa outside Africa.

Professional networking and cooperation with institutions

Directory of Museum Professionals in Africa

The first Directory of Museum Professionals in Africa published in 1993 was a joint project by ICOM and the West African Museums Programme (WAMP). Technical and scientific personnel in museums and similar institutions in Africa are listed in the directory, and the practical expertise of both the institutions and the personnel is also mentioned. A computer database has been set up in Dakar and in Paris.

Connecting museums to the Internet

AFRICOM has developed an active policy of connecting museums to email and the Internet so as to facilitate communication between professionals in the African network. Priority is given to institutions that play a role in coordinating the AFRICOM Programme and the projects under way. Museums in the following countries have been connected: Benin, the Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar, Swaziland, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There has been a major turning point in the lives of the institutions that have been connected to email and the Internet as they can now communicate with networks and museums in Africa and throughout the world.

Legal and financial autonomy for museums

One of the factors that has been hampering museum development in Africa is the lack of autonomy.
In 1992 a legal expert was entrusted with a study on the autonomy of museums in Africa. Information was gathered by means of questionnaires that were sent out to museums on the continent. The study was published in 1995 under the title "Autonomy of Museums in Africa" and was widely distributed to museums in Africa, ICOM bodies, and other governmental and non-governmental organisations. Several themes were developed in the work: Museum status, systems and personnel; Public service missions; and the Principles of legal and financial autonomy.
The study is a very useful reference document for all those who would like to take action to strengthen the autonomy of museums in Africa.

Illicit traffic in cultural property: the fight against the massive loss of African heritage

Fighting against the illicit traffic in cultural property is one of AFRICOM's major priorities. The looting of archaeological sites and theft in museums are among the main causes of the destruction and loss of Africa's cultural heritage. Faced with the ever increasing trafficking that is emptying out museums and devastating sites, African professionals are being mobilised to take action within the framework of the AFRICOM Programme.

Collaboration between Museums, Police and Customs services

Three regional workshops bringing together museum professionals as well as police and customs officers were organised in Arusha in 1993, in Bamako in 1994 and in Kinshasa in 1994. The aims were to set up efficient working teams in each country, ensure cooperation at the regional level, and define new ways of raising awareness amongst local communities about the need to protect their heritage.
The workshops were organised in close collaboration with INTERPOL and UNESCO to involve the police in the protection of cultural heritage, and to provide information about the legal international instruments for protecting heritage.
There have been concrete results at the regional and national levels, particularly as far as reinforcing legislation and security measures in museums, special training for police and customs officers, and raising public awareness are concerned. Thanks to the workshops, a book on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property in Africa was published in 1995.

Spreading information about stolen objects and raising public awareness

In September 1994, Looting in Africa was published in the One Hundred Missing Objects series. In the book, which gives a wide panorama of the different types of theft on the continent, African professionals stress the problem of the systematic looting of archaeological sites containing particular types of objects.
Thanks to the distribution of the book to customs and police officers, art dealers and the press, stolen or looted objects were found on the art market in Europe. Their restitution is described on pages I to V of the updated version printed in 1997.

Putting standards in place for inventorying and documenting African collections

Without a doubt, the inventory of a museum's collections serves as a vital support against theft. Today it is clear that you cannot implement efficient policies or make the most of the resources available unless there is regional and international networking and cooperation. In 1993, seven museums together with ICOM's International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC) set up a project for standardising inventories. The museums involved were the:

  • National Museums of Kenya
  • Musée national du Mali
  • Institut des musées nationaux du Zaire
  • Musée d'Art et d'Archéologie de l'Université de Madagascar
  • National Museum of Namibia
  • Musée du Bardo in Tunis
  • National Cultural History Museum of South Africa

After four years' work by professionals a bilingual English-French handbook covering all types of collections was published in 1996: Handbook of Standards. Documenting African Collections.
The handbook provides an answer to two concerns of museum professionals: on the one hand protecting African cultural heritage by documenting it and carrying out systematic inventories of collections, and on the other developing museum activities by facilitating the exchange of information on collections and sharing professional practices.
The standards were tested for three years on the collections of the seven pilot museums, and were constantly readapted. They have proved to be efficient both individually for each museum and for exchange purposes.
The handbook has been widely distributed in Africa and to museums throughout the world with collections of African art. It is now recognised by the international community. An electronic version may be consulted on ICOM's site on the Internet (http://www.icom.org/afridoc/).
National training workshops on how to use the handbook have been organised in every region in Africa. A regional workshop for North African countries was held in Morocco, resulting in a translation of the handbook into Arabic which was published in October 1997.

Collaboration between countries in the North and countries in the South

A new step was taken in October 1997 when the whole international network of professionals was mobilised to help protect African heritage. A workshop was held in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) to build up new collaboration between countries in the North and countries in the South, focusing on the acquisition, exchange and loan of collections. Recommendations were made, and a Red List of the categories of archaeological objects that are particularly vulnerable to looting was drawn up. Detailed information on the list will be distributed in October 1999.

New perspectives

AFRICOM has undertaken to explore new perspectives for developing museums in Africa. Much thought is being given to two areas:

Science museums: developing these museums is a major challenge for AFRICOM because of the role they can play in documenting and popularising traditional and contemporary science and techniques.
Contemporary art in African museums: AFRICOM is trying to promote the involvement of African museums in the study, preservation and creation of contemporary plastic arts on the continent. A Contemporary Art Coordinator has been appointed to that effect.

Developing these new themes will be one of AFRICOM's major tasks in the years to come.


Updated: 6 June 2005