In late July 2021, CERDOTOLA (Centre International de Recherche et de Documentation sur les Traditions et les Langues Africaines), host of IFLA Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centre Cameroon, hosted an International Conference on the theme: conservation and preservation of documentary heritage in Central Africa, pillars of reconciliation and peacebuilding.

This conference was carried out in collaboration with IFLA and the Cameroon Association of Librarians, Archivists, Documentalists and Museum Curators (ABADCAM), and was made possible through generous funding provided by the UNESCO Participation Programme.

Introduction and Goals

The goals of this 2-day Conference were to bring library and documentary heritage professionals from across Cameroon and other Francophone Central African countries together to learn more about documentary heritage conservation and preservation, specifically in conflict and post-conflict zones. Participants and experts discussed the role of this cultural heritage in peacebuilding and reconciliation, to help attendees develop strategies and action plans for improving protection of these materials.

Through participation in this conference, delegates engaged in exchanges with experts in documentary heritage from several Central African countries, including librarians and archivists, as well as others working in heritage management.

The opening ceremony featured addresses by Dr. Jean Eudes Biem, the Executive Secretary of CERDOTOLA, Mr. Alim Garga, President of ABADCAM and Director of Documentary Information at the National Assembly of Cameroon, and the Director of UNESCO’s Multisectoral Regional Office for Central Africa, represented by the Head of the Culture Sector at the Regional Office, Dr. Christian Ndombi.

Mr.  Tangmo Norbert, director of the CERDOTOLA Documentation Centre and IFLA PAC Centre, presented the programme, and gave more insight into the missions of the IFLA PAC Centre hosted at CERDOTOLA.

Day 1: Discussion on Conflicts in Central Africa and Safeguarding Documentary Heritage

This discussion was informed by speaker Dr. Monty Albert, SGPR, CMR, presenting on the topic: Conflicts in Central Africa: state of play, impact on documentary heritage, assessment, and perspectives.

Attendees were also given an overview of existing standards and instruments that could be useful within this context for the preservation of cultural and documentary heritage.

Both presentations were followed by a discussion, where attendees were invited to exchange with one another and ask questions to the presenters.

Day 2: Strategies for the preservation of documentary heritage in conflict zones and promotion of peace and reconciliation

This important aspect of the conference’s work focussed on how the destruction of cultural heritage and the loss of documentary cultural heritage can have an adverse effect on social cohesion. It underlined that this material is an important resource for building understanding and tolerance, and therefore the safeguarding of cultural heritage is an aspect of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

This was expanded on with a presentation by Mr. Willy Kuicheu (ESSTIC) on the theme, Strategies for the preservation of documentary heritage in conflict zones.  Challenges of preserving types of documentary heritage were explored in a discussion on the topic of preserving scientific and technical information, and the new challenges and opportunities this presents information professionals, with speaker Dr.  Chantale Moukoko (UD).

Building further on the theme of this conference, specifically in conflict and post-conflict zones, Mr.  Moussa Diamoun (MINAT) spoke further to the role that preservation and conservation of documentary heritage in Africa can have on the promotion of peace and reconciliation. A lively discussion followed these presentations.

Participants broke out into four groups to take part in interactive groupwork and discuss the themes of the two days. Following this, all delegates regrouped to summarise their reflections and resolutions resulting from the groupwork.

The closing of the conference included the reading of recommendations and conclusions, with the presence of representatives from the UNESCO Regional Office, ABADCAM, and CERDOTOLA.

Conference Outcomes

Informed by the expert speakers, participants engaged in discussions and small group work in order to outline strategies and identify opportunities and challenges for countries in safeguarding heritage endangered by armed conflict. They also discussed the designing of programmes and plans for the rescue and recovery of damaged documents in their institutions and countries.

Further, participants drafted recommendations to their public authorities regarding the integration of programmes on the preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage in schools and military, paramilitary, and civic training structures.

These exercises helped achieve the final objective of the conference, which was for participants to develop a strategy and action plan for safeguarding documentary cultural heritage in their own context, aimed at both information professionals and decision-makers.

The PAC Centre at CERDOTOLA happily reports that at the end of two days of work, the objectives of this conference were largely achieved.

With the aim of promoting the protection of documentary heritage in Central Africa, the meeting was an opportunity to share new knowledge between information professionals from a variety of backgrounds and from across the region. It represents an inclusive approach to safeguarding documentary cultural heritage adapted specifically to the reality of conflict and post-conflict zones.

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