Ethiopia is an ancient country with a remarkable rich linguistic and cultural diversity. This diversity includes tangible and intangible heritage with both traditional and modern cultural expressions, language, and centuries old know how in handicraft production. In fact, Ethiopia’s cultural industry is perhaps one of the oldest in the world and is exceptionally diverse. The other intangible heritage of Ethiopia is equally rich with an exceptional variety including ceremonies, festivals, celebrations, rituals, and other living expressions. Moreover, eight of the Ethiopia’s cultural and natural heritage sites are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Lists attesting to the outstanding universal value of Ethiopia’s heritage. The rich cultural landscape is further enhanced by the representation of numerous religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other traditional religions. The peaceful coexistence of these religious communities for centuries is a testament to Ethiopia’s social cohesion. Moreover, Ethiopia is a land endowed with immense biodiversity. Safeguarding and harnessing these assets would enable Ethiopia to capitalize on its rich heritage for socio-economic wellbeing of the people of Ethiopia and for sustainable development.
Ethiopia ratified the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2006.Ratification of the Convention was therefore, a landmark achievement for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. This bold move gave the country an opportunity to conserve, promote, safeguard and develop it’s cultural diversity for sustainable development. Coupled with it’s existing legal and policy frameworks such as the 1995 constitution, the 1997 cultural policy and the 209/2000 proclamation which established the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), the country had therefore positioned itself to harness it’s potential in the development of the culture sector and particularly pay special attention to it’s rich intangible cultural heritages of over eighty ethnic groups.
As a signatory to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Ethiopian government was thus bound to observe it’s obligation under the Convention and it’s operational directives. Since 2006 and using it’s existing legal, policy, and institutional frameworks, the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia through the Authority for Research in Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) began the work of implementing the convention at the national level. A national workshop to sensitize stakeholders on the implementation of the convention was organized. Later on Inventories were developed for the ICH of many Nations, Nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia with much of the expertise for such undertakings coming from ARCCH. Ethiopia has one element (Meskel) inscribed in the List of Elements in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and a few others such as the Ashura Festival have been lined up for nomination into the lists within the framework of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
UNESCO’s highest priority for implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is a global capacity-building strategy, put in place to strengthen countries’ capacities for the sustainable safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and for harnessing its potential for sustainable development while promoting broad public knowledge and support for the Convention’s concepts and objectives.
The Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism is the relevant Ministry charged with the responsibility of conservation, promotion, development and the safeguarding of culture of the Nations, Nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia for Sustainable Development. Through the ARCCH, much has been done regarding the implementation of the Convention. There is however, a lot that can be achieved if the Government lays a solid foundation for the implementation of the convention.