Le Comité international de l'ICOM pour les musées
régionaux (ICR) /
ICOM's International Committee for Regional Museums
in African museums - a trend of the 21st
Director Regional Museums. Sites & Monuments National Museums
as cultural institutions are beginning to play important
roles in African countries and to be seen as part and parcel
of the community they serve. Therefore it is imperative
that they are responsive to the needs of the community.
In Africa, many pre-independence museums were founded for
the interest of particular groups, except for a few museums
engaged in scientific research. The visitors were the few
elite or white people who were intrigued by "artefacts from
the primitive tribes". Today, museum agenda has changed
to try to take Africa's needs into account, with museums
playing the role of both custodians of National Heritage
and forums for cultural development and exchange. The museums
founded after independence do not only reflect the new national
identities, but use the past through exhibits and public
programmes to instil a sense of identity and pride that
was once misappropriated. This new development reflects
the desire to take a central role in the countries' political,
social and economic discourses. However, not all museums
have reached this stage; some have no clear objectives or
prospects. Nevertheless, the question "at Museums for Africa?1
seems to have rung across the continent.
there are two or three different kinds of museums - local
museums run by a community, centrally controlled national
museums that encourage various cultures to mix and help
create national identities, and also university museums.
In Kenya national and local museums have merged into one
National Museum of Kenya, where all museums are regarded
as national, despite the fact that they are regionally based
and that many of their activities are region-based. Most
museums have collections that also represent other parts
of the country.
South Africa the situation is quite different. Probably
only two museums are national; the others represent regions
or small communities within a very restricted area. Some
may even represent an interest group or a displaced people
within a municipality.
there are still many exhibitions of ethnographic materials,
new museums try to answer public questions rather than serve
only as repositories of material. Even the ethnographic
collections are being given meaning and use; material is
getting a voice and playing a role in the present African
Most African museums are playing
a central role in children's education. Large numbers of
primary, secondary and college students visit museums for
lectures and "hands-on" activities. The programmes involve
both natural and cultural sciences, and make children aware
of the environment through lectures, film shows, painting
competitions and new exhibits. The Livingstone Museum in
Zambia, and the Fort Jesus and Nairobi Museums in Kenya
are among the many that have perfected such programmes.
Through its desert Zebra out-reach programme, the National
Museum of Botswana in Gaborone has popularized museum operations
at the rural level. The National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi
has introduced a new angle to its public programmes: toy
making and exhibiting as a means of learning has become
one of its priorities. Its collaboration with the Commonwealth
Association of Museums has raised the interest on children's
issues in museums.
as community spaces
Museums in Africa are becoming
platforms for expressing the feelings and expectations of
living communities. With the disappearance of many of their
cultural and spiritual spaces, communities may regard museums
as an alternative space for cultural activities and community
performances. Furthermore, the rediscovery and redefinition
of peoples' traditions seems to be taking place in African
museum spaces, thus making the institutions much more active
museums as custodians of the continent's heritage
Many African museums play the
role of custodians of both cultural and natural heritage.
Apart from their ethnographic, prehistoric and historic
collections, a number of museums host some of the largest
botanical and zoological specimens on the continent.The
National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi probably has the largest
collection of plant species on the continent in its Herbarium;
the same could be said of its entomological collection.
The museum also has the largest and most up-to-date Centre
for Biodiversity in East and Central Africa. Most of these
facilities are used for research directly related to human
existence and the preservation of the environment. More
than exhibiting indigenous food plants and medicines, many
museums are offering experimentation with the food values
and the cultural significance of different plants.
are also involved in conserving immovable heritage such
as monuments, ritualistic sites, cultural landscapes, etc.
This is true of Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, West Africa,
Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Madagascar, and East and Southern
Africa. In Kenya the old towns of Lamu and Mombasa have
been gazetted as protected historical heritage, and benefit
from the museum's Old Town Conservation Unit which is responsible
for their care. The museum works closely with the local
community - the owners of the heritage. This is a good example
of harmonious cooperation between a museum and a community,
where the museum contributes directly to the local economy.
Facing a real need for labour, working on restoration, preservation
and renovation, some of the museums have founded training
centres, such as the Swahili Culture Centre in Lamu and
Mombasa where traditional arts and crafts are taught to
young men and women who would not otherwise have jobs. The
museums thus create sustainable resources for the local
area, while reviving and developing threatened cultures.
networking, museums in Africa have become active custodians
of their national heritage; and although illegal traffic
in cultural property is still prevalent, most African museums
through ICOM's AFRICOM programme have made a concerted effort
to stamp it out. Again through AFRICOM, African museums
have documented their collections, and today there is a
set standard for this.
ICCROM's Prevention in Museums in Africa (PREMA) courses,
African museums have managed to develop their manpower in
conservation and to reorganise their storage facilities.
A new forum, AFRICA 2009 for the Conservation of Immovable
Cultural Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa, is set to further
enhance the role of African museums in managing their heritage
sustainably. Thus through partnerships, the new African
museums have been able to redefine their roles and begin
meeting the challenges of the future.
example of partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa is the twinning
of African Museums to European ones, notably the case of
ICOM's Swedish-African Museum Programme (SAMP) which is
sponsored by the Swedish International Development Authority
(SIDA). Museums in Africa and those in Sweden have an equal
partnership that has seen very fruitful and rich cross-cultural
exchanges. Within Africa itself, regional organisations
geared towards promoting museum work and networking have
taken root; such as the West African Museums Programme (WAMP)
and the Southern Africa Development Community Association
of Museums and Monuments (SADCAMM). A sense of a regional
approach to museum issues has been developed and now museums
in Africa are set to work much more closely together than
before, removing barriers based on boundaries and language.
museums are playing major roles in "nation building". Africa
has for a long time been a continent of conflicts and wars.
Most African politicians have not lived up to the expectations
of independence, and today many countries are more divided
on ethnic grounds than ever before. There has been a lack
of the understanding of diversity as a resource. There is
a need now for a voice of reason, an alternative forum for
discussion, a neutral ground, and some museums in Africa
have started to play that role and fill the gap as facilitators
of peaceful co-existence among peoples.
with its recent numerous ethnic clashes, is an example of
a country where reconciliation is necessary. The National
Museums of Kenya, realising the gravity of the situation
and its privileged role as a neutral and non-partisan organisation,
started research some years back on the traditional ways
of conflict resolution among ethnic groups in the country.
This was done with a view to using past knowledge and mechanisms
in creating peace among the diverse Kenyan communities.
Today, as a symbol of this effort, there is an exhibition
entitled The heritage of peace and reconciliation. With
audio-visual and material cultural evidence, this puts together
the process of conflict resolution among pastoralists in
Kenya, and is hoped to sensitize everybody to the need for
peaceful co-existence among peoples. A number of African
museums have started on similar exercises, and more will
be required to follow suit, and so fulfil Omar Konare's
saying that we must also be open to traditional knowledge,
the knowledge of the people, of notables, men of culture.
museums have tried to move towards becoming institutions
where the meaning and the role of both the objects and the
museums can be re-enacted to suit the present situation
and generation. As Omar Konare once, noted, it must be clear
that we are conserving objects not for their own sake, but
for mankind in relation to man and society. If we pay more
attention to the objects than to man and society. we shall
conserve nothing. An object cannot be conserved outside
man or outside society.
everything, however, has been perfect in museums in Africa;
even today, many museums lack policies and vision. And in
today's Africa where the word "liberalisation" is key, many
so-called private museums have sprung up with no programming
and no strategies, but merely as ventures to make quick
money. While collection takes place, there is not sufficient
provision for storage, proper environmental conditions or
conservation. If not checked this will be an even bigger
threat to the African heritage than the plunder that took
place during colonial times and continues as illicit traffic
in cultural property.
museums also lack proper funding. Government binding is
either very low or non existent as cultural institutions
are given low priority. More serious still, Africa is so
rich in cultural heritage that museums as custodians are
basically overwhelmed. Furthermore, museums still lack trained
manpower. They are still being confronted by illicit trade
in cultural heritage, and most do not have the capacity
to fight the well organised operatives of' the trade. This,
however, is a war that has to be fought by all, not only
is clear that modern African museums are starting to play
a crucial role as centres of research, education and exhibition.
They are becoming community facilities and are creating
spaces and forums where different voices can be heard. Through
partnerships they are regionalising and even globalising
their operations, and enhancing the role of culture in development,
appreciation of diversity and understanding between human
beings. As they are also custodians of living heritage,
African museums are especially well-placed to play this
role. It is hoped that the African museums of the future
will further expand their horizons and develop both local
and global visions of their heritage; a heritage that must
be taken in its totality, a true representation of the African
continent and being.
Proceedings of the Encounters "What Museums for Africa?
Heritage in the Future" Benin, Ghana Togo, 18-23 November
1991 / International Council of Museums. - [Paris]: ICOM,
1992. 461 p., bibl ISBN 92-9012-112-2
musées commencent à jouer un rôle important en Afrique en
tant qu'institutions culturelles et à être considérés comme
parties prenantes des communautés qu'ils servent. Les musées
fondés après l'indépendance ne renvoient pas à de nouvelles
identités nationales, mais font appel au passé, dans leurs
expositions et programmes d'activités, pour distiller un
sens identitaire et une fierté jusque-là absents. Ces nouveaux
développements reflètent le désir d'occuper un rôle central
dans les discours politiques, sociaux et économiques du
pays.Tous les musées n'ont pas atteint ce stade, et certains
n'ont pas de vision ou de projet d'avenir très clairs. Néanmoins,
l'interrogation Quels musées pour l'Afrique? semble s'être
répandue sur tout le continent. 1