African intangible cultural heritage

Isukuti dancers going through their paces in an isukuti performance Read more on the element
© Department of Culture, 2013

Since the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) was adopted, Africa has been one of the most active regions for implementing it, with 50 States Parties coming from the continent. Africa’s rich living heritage plays a fundamental role in building a strong cultural identity and shared values across the region, which are key to archieving the African Union Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As one of its Global Priorities, UNESCO strives to support communities, national and local authorities,for the effective implementation of the 2003 Convention in Africa and the safeguarding of its living heritage across generations.

Living heritage in Africa at a glance

  • 50 States Parties
  • 88 elements inscribed by States Parties from the African continent,
  • 22 elements inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List,
  • 65 elements inscribed on the Representative List
  • One proposal selected for the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices.
  • US$ 4.8 million assistance granted through the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund
  • 33 facilitators based in Africa (24% of total members)
  • 2 UNESCO Chairs Omar Bongo University, Gabon (Bantouphonie: languages in danger, endogenous knowledge and biodiversity)
  • 1 Category 2 Centre - Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Africa (Algeria)

Some recent inscriptions in Africa

Group of men heating the ‘moutya’ drum Read more on the element
© Mr Johnny Volcere, Seychelles, 2013
< Seychelles, Moutya, a traditional dance form and practice, Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Le groupe Nkento Bakaji constitué d’artistes féminines au Festival Rumba Parade Read more on the element
© Etienne Kokolo, Kinshasa, République du Congo, 2017

Democratic Republic of the Congo and Congo, Congolese rumba, Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity >

Girls from Muraka Primary School, Kakamega County, reciting a poem on traditional foods during a foodways fair. Read more on the element
© Patrick Maundu, Kenya, 2012
< Kenya, Success story of promoting traditional foods and safeguarding traditional foodways in Kenya, Register of Good Safeguarding Practices

International Assistance in Africa

As a region, Africa has taken advantage of the largest proportion of assistance granted through the Convention’s International Assistance mechanism. Initiatives focus on the development of community-based inventories of intangible cultural heritage, the implementation of safeguarding measures for specific elements including those in need of urgent safeguarding and the integration of living heritage into educational programmes at the national and local levels. In order to facilitate access to International Assistance, technical assistance is provided to States Parties to help in the development of requests

Capacity Building in Africa

The global capacity-building programme supports the effective implementation of the 2003 Convention. Since its inception in 2009, it has supported forty-five countries in Africa to enhance institutional capacities for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. The capacity-building programme is supported by its network of dedicated facilitators, of which 24% are from Africa.

ICH and Education in Africa

Initiatives and projects that bring living heritage into classrooms or non-formal education spaces can take different approaches, depending on the local context, the needs, and educational level. Existing successful experiences of integrating living heritage and transformation education in projects in Uganda and Kenya are available on the clearinhouse on education. More on ICH and Education on the dedicated webpage.

The Convention provides in Article 29 that States Parties shall submit to the Committee reports on the legislative, regulatory and other measures taken for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage in their territories. The Committee examines those reports, in accordance with Article 7 (f), and summarizes them for the General Assembly.
The Secretariat has developed a dedicated webpage which includes references to the reports already examined by the Committee, their summaries as well as future deadlines for reports on the status of elements inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

2024 cycle: Africa (submission of periodic report on 15 December 2023)

You can also discover Africa’s large living heritage, through a dynamic and interactive space of vibrant intangible cultural heritage practices and expressions, representing a rich cultural diversity.

Zoom on Dive! constellation of an element in Central Africa
Zoom on Dive! constellation of an element in Subsaharian African States