At a Blue Economy event dubbed Tamaduni Conversations, on Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth, stakeholders delved into conversations around protecting, respecting, discovering, and sharing Mombasa’s cultural heritage in Kenya.
These are only a few of the priorities of the British Council in Kenya, which had sponsored the event in collaboration with Twaweza Communications. The conversation was held on March 14, 2023 in Mombasa.
Another program passionate about working with cultural communities and people closest to protecting cultural heritage in Kenya is Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth (CH4IG).
The British Council in Kenya held a vibrant cultural symposium in Nairobi in 2019 before hosting other cultural events where decolonization was, for once, the major theme.
Although it was merely a prelude to the following year’s cultural symposium, it once again presented an event this year with the theme: Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Mombasa County.
The Sanyes, Wata, and Bonis are severely underrepresented groups in Mombasa.
Yet, the seaside city of Mombasa, which attracts many domestic and foreign visitors each year, is one of the fundamental aspects of Kenyan culture.
Intersecting blue economy and cultural heritage
In terms of ecosystem diversity and prospects for a blue economy, the Kenyan coast is rich.
There are many definitions of the term “blue economy,” but in the context of Kenya, it refers to the last remaining ocean resource and what may be obtained from the oceans to enhance livelihoods without depleting it.
Mangroves from Lamu to Mvanga, seagrass, and coral reefs are just a few of the diverse ecosystems that are abundant there.
Need for data, better tourist sites
Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director for Fisheries at the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Dr. Nina Wambiji, maintained that it is the responsibility of the scientist or communists to go out and observe the ecology.
She urged scientists and communists to gather data in order to assist the government in planning and resource allocation so that investments in the coastal region would be worthwhile.
“We can’t have a blue economy without information, and information comes with data; there must be consistent and credible data that we go out and collect,” she said during the blue economy event.
The Kenya Coastal Development Project and other entities connected to the area need to capitalize on this change from traditional tourism of seeing the “big five” only to getting tourists to other attractions along the Coast.
Such include watching sea animals such as whales and dolphins to revive the once flamboyant tourism industry.
According to a concern by one of the attendees, “There is always the accusation that scientists work in isolation and that our knowledge doesn’t reach our communities, specifically because of language barriers.”
Scientists are now collaborating with locals and communities, speaking in their dialect through interpreters to convert the knowledge into digestible formats, according to Dr. Wambiji.
The history of cultural preservation along the coast is very long and dates back more than a thousand years ago.
Organizations have done much to preserve artifacts and advance social traditions, but better investments and partnerships are still needed for such a resource-rich location.
Historical and sacred sites
Shipwrecks off the coast of Lamu are just one example of how many forms of mechanization, commodities, and trading networks are bundled up into history.
However, how can this be packaged for tourism and used to support the local population?
The local population can find a way to protect this while also fishing for a living, thanks to the blue economy.
To enable people to go underwater, particularly in shallow seas where most historical objects lie, and reveal this knowledge, underwater tourism should be considered through controlled tourism.
Dr. Caesar Bita, an underwater archeologist, and Aisha Fadhil, an object conservator at the National Museums of Kenya, were panelists in this discussion.
They backed their agendas of integrating the blue economy and cultural heritage in harnessing the blue economy for growth and inclusivity.
Whatever is submerged may have been damaged over time; thus, returning it to land takes careful consideration in terms of care and condition.
Submerged historical sites
Historical sites submerged in water should be preserved as much as possible because artifacts that have been submerged for more than 300 years tend to stabilize in the environment in which they have been preserved.
“The Ngomeni Shipwreck is only one of many projects being worked on with the assistance of the National Museum in Nairobi’s Audiovisual Department,” Dr. Bita emphasized.
However, creating audiovisual underwater documentaries is much simpler than excavation, which is expensive and requires a high level of expertise.
Reminiscing the past
“There is a time we had free fishing trollers fishing outside the ocean. Fishermen were distributing free fish due to lack of market for surplus production but right now the fishers are hardly having a catch. They is direct sewage coming out opposite KMFRI from a faulty water sewage plan for over 40 years, killing the ocean life,” lamented Kalanda, a participant.
He urged the government to focus on reviving the blue economy in areas like Lamu, which used to thrive years back from the same.
Restriction and cultural heritage
Conducting a cultural heritage impact study before beginning any big development is essential.
The National Museums, prioritizing this, has conducted several impact analyses.
A preliminary impact evaluation had been done before the sea wall of Fort Jesus was built.
Not only do land-based cultural heritages need to be evaluated, but shipwrecks under the sea have also undergone impact analysis as a cultural heritage.
Dr. Bita, a marine anthropologist, confirmed that he participated in the project and was even involved in the legal framework, netting, and Sursexx and Saint Anton shipwrecks.
Along with his team, he covered the location underwater with a fabric net.
Even though Kenya has achieved the largest milestone in the management and preservation of underwater cultural treasures in sub-Saharan Africa, it has not yet ratified the underwater treaty.
“There is a lot to ratify, but the Kenyan marine is working to go through its specific set of guidelines so that it can be at the forefront of the annex,” guaranteed Dr. Bita.
Call for media partnership
The conference highlighted the need for journalists to take part in the recording of such historical data, especially through filming and documentary.
Some journalists raised concerns that however much they would like to take part in the documenting of this underwater heritage, the governing bodies still shy away and give the job to the bodies they are fond of.
Most journalists lack the swimming skills needed underwater.
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For the undersea cultural heritage and the media to work together successfully, there is a need to invest in media personnel and equip them with underwater skills.