African cultural heritage passes through the hands and hearts of diverse African professionals trained in many ways of preserving and transmitting culture. They have the important task of embodying the rich and diverse traditions of the African continent. Globally, the cultural heritage sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but these consequences are far from geopolitically monolithic. In an effort to provide a practical means for international policymakers and finding bodies to support African cultural heritage, the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage implemented a study between May and September 2021 to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on African cultural heritage practitioners, training programs, and institutions.
Based on 84 survey questionnaires and 31 individual interviews with students and professionals from Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, this study highlights the voices of frontline cultural workers. These cultural workers consist of a diverse group of those work in art museums and galleries, archives and museums, cultural tourism and heritage sites, and archeology. This piolet study aimed to evaluate the state of the cultural heritage during the pandemic and the essential role these cultural heritage professionals and students played.
There were a few common threads from these interviews. Many of the participants spoke “to the importance of empowering local youth to study different sectors of cultural heritage, create more practical training opportunities, and for tertiary institutions to include courses that both decolonize and reinvent African museology, conservation, and preservation”. Many of the interviewees also echoed how cultural institutions should work on building resilient infrastructure through communication with not only the government but with other NGOs, private investors, and funding organizations. This study was conducted as preliminary research, it provides a strong road map for the expansion of such studies. We hope that with the growth of such research, we can work to find practical solutions that resonate with the diverse needs of the continent.