The UNESCO Online Consultation on Cultural Policies for the Africa Region was held on 31 January and 1 February, hosted by the Republic of Senegal.


This consultation invited UNESCO member states from across Africa to share their perspective on current trends relating to cultural policies, especially in the context of COVID-19 recovery, as part of the preparatory process for the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – MONDIACULT 2022.

These consultations are inclusive, participatory, priority-focused – striving to map current trends in cultural policy, identify gaps and opportunities, and highlight key priorities within each region.

By identifying where each region requires stronger cultural policy development, these consultations will help ensure that the agenda of MONDIACULT 2022 equips the culture sector to address challenges of sustainable development.

Libraries at the Table

IFLA joined the African Regional Consultation as an observer. Other civil society representatives in attendance included the International Centre for Research and Documentation on African Traditions and Languages (CERDOTOLA), host of IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre in Cameroon.

IFLA was represented by Dr Victoria Okojie, a member of IFLA’s Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Division Committee and of the UNESCO Memory of the World International Advisory Committee.

Dr Okojie offered an intervention that touched on key priorities raised by the African member states and offered direct suggestions as to how libraries can play a role in addressing these challenges.

Her main point was clear: libraries are vital parts of the cultural infrastructure. Through their collections, programmes, and places in the hearts of communities, libraries contribute to the creation of literate, informed, and participatory societies. As such, they are key institutions in helping harness the power of culture as a driver of sustainable development.

Key Priorities

Through interactions with members and experts working in the region, IFLA offered the following priorities. Within these priorities, policy and investment could be strengthened to help libraries uphold the cultural rights of their communities and contribute to equitable and inclusive development:

1. Safeguarding of African documentary heritage

IFLA stressed that documentary heritage provides a reflection of the continued contribution of Africans to world civilization and of the pioneering place of Africa in the very foundations of writing and the spiritual and cultural development of mankind. The loss of this material would be a loss to the memory of the world.

IFLA called for more support for memory institutions in safeguarding their collection, increased action on cultural property protection, integration of memory institutions into national disaster management plans, and increased training and capacity building within memory institutions to preserve and digitise their collections.

2. Equitable participation in digital transformation

A key priority voiced by many ministers of culture and their representatives during the consultation was the opportunities, but also the challenges, associated with the migration of the cultural sector to the digital environment.

IFLA stressed that equitable participation in the digital transformation is key, which must be achieved in part through lifelong learning and training opportunities. Libraries are flexible skill training spaces and can be powerful knowledge partners in initiatives designed to grow digital literacy and ICT skills.

3. Linking culture to education for peace and sustainable development

Libraries present an opportunity to engage communities with cultural heritage with the goal of promoting peace, reconciliation, and education for sustainable development, including environmental sustainability.

An example can be found in IFLA’s PAC Centre in Cameroon’s International Conference on Documentary Heritage Safeguarding for Peacebuilding (2021).

Institutions like libraries can be effective partners in strengthening linkages between culture and education, especially with a focus on promoting multiculturalism and multilingualism. They too are key partners in engaging young people as actors of social transformation, which will be essential for climate empowerment.

Looking Ahead

IFLA closed by urging member states to place culture at the start, and at the heart, of sustainable development. Actions that Member States might take include featuring culture in their voluntary national reviews of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. They can also set a priority now to work towards achieving an explicit goal for culture in any post-2030 development framework.

IFLA will continue engaging with UNESCO in the preparatory process in the leadup to MONDIACULT 2022. We are continuing to include a library voice in the other UNESCO-MONDIACULT Regional Consultations, which are being held until the end of February 2022.

Finally, we will explore many different angles of libraries in culture for sustainable development in our upcoming ResiliArt x Mondiacult virtual event.

Find more information on the event and the link to register here: ResiliArt x Mondiacult – Libraries enabling inclusive and meaningful access to culture.

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