Somalia celebrates International Museum Day 2021

Participants in the first celebration of International Museum Day in Somalia 18 May 2021, SOMASA, Mogadishu, Somalia

Following the historic re-opening of the National Museum of Somalia in 2020, UNESCO partnered with the Somali Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education in collaboration with the African Union Commission and the International Council of Museums to organize a national celebration of International Museum Day in Somalia on 18 May 2021. Bringing together over 50 stakeholders, the hybrid workshop included physical participation of over 30 national experts and ministry representatives at the Somali Academy of Science and Arts (SOMASA) in Mogadishu and virtual interventions by international participants.

The workshop raised awareness among key decision and policy makers about the benefits of ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and its complementary UNIDROIT 1995 Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. It also highlighted the guidance of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, and contributed to the celebration of the African Union Year for Culture, Arts and Heritage in 2021.

This was Somalia’s first celebration of International Museum Day, which was established by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in 1977 to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society, and it has been steadily gaining momentum ever since. With the theme “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine”, International Museum Day 2021 is focused on rethinking the museum of the future to meet the challenges of the present.

The workshop was opened by Mr. Lazare Eloundou, Director of UNESCO Culture and Emergencies Entity, and included opening remarks by Ms. Angela Martins, Director of Culture, African Union Commission, and H.E. Mr. Abdullahi Abukar Haji Abdullahi, Somali Minister of Education, Culture and Higher Education.

It is now more urgent than ever to protect our heritage and cultural property as evidence of our history and touchstones for our memories. We need to join forces to promote the role of museums in our society as the cornerstone for solidarity and resilience.
Mr. Lazare Eloundou, Director of UNESCO Culture and Emergencies Entity
Protection of Africa’s rich and unique cultural property and heritage has been a preoccupation and cause for concern of the African Union since its inception as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The protection, preservation and exhibition of our heritage is our joint responsibility as citizens, communities, societies and States. Hence we laud this initiative by UNESCO and the Government of Somalia, which will contribute to this aim.
Ms. Angela Martins, Director of Culture, African Union Commission
On the occasion of International Museum Day, I would like to reiterate the commitment of the Somali Government to fully operationalize the Somali National Museum, given its significant importance in the protection of cultural properties but also in peace-building and development. I would also like to thank all of the scholars in different parts of the world who are taking part in reviving the National Museum of Somalia. It is now a critical time for the National Museum to collect the archives and objects that will go into the museum collections. By preserving Somali history, we can teach the younger generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to treasure our heritage. This is a personal initiative for me to make the Somali National Museum even better than it was before.
H.E. Mr. Abdullahi Abukar Haji Abdullahi, Somali Minister of Education, Culture and Higher Education

The workshop was divided into two sessions, which focused on International Legal Frameworks and the National Context, before giving time for group discussion and recommendations for priority actions in the prevention and fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in Somalia.

In the first session, Ms. Karalyn Monteil, Programme Specialist for Culture at UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa introduced the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the benefits of its ratification by Somalia. She also provided an overview of the UNESCO 2015 Museum Recommendation. Ms. Marina Schneider, Principal Legal Officer & Treaty Depositary introduced the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention. Her presentation highlighted the need for Somalia to develop a strong legal framework, establish bilateral agreements, adhere to international and regional instruments and respect the ICOM Code of Ethics in order to strengthen its protection of cultural property and facilitate return and restitution requests. She stressed the importance of inventories and encouraged Somalia to review the 432 objects featured in the Sarr-Savoy report. Mr. Terry Simioti Nyambe, representing ICOM Executive Council, raised awareness about the benefits of the ICOM network as well as its resources, and capacity-building programme. He also shared insights on the
 International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, which is an international collaborative platform with network information and a resources database.

In the National Context session, the role of Somali National Museum, as well as needs and priorities for the protection of cultural property were introduced by Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Si’id, Director of Somali National Museum. Prof. Osman Gedow Amir, National expert of Natural heritage, provided an overview of the Somali National Museum Collections: Past, Present and Future. He lamented that 30 years had been lost in collecting Somali cultural heritage, which provide an understanding of Somali people, their identity and their history, and can contribute to mutual understanding and sustainable peace. Lastly, Prof. Osman Yusuf Mohamed, Director of Cultural Heritage, summarized the current level of protection of cultural property, archaeological sites, and collections in Somalia—including their needs and priorities. He called on the government, UNESCO and other partners to invest in scholarships for Somali youth in the management and protection of cultural property, and stressed the need for awareness raising of the value of cultural property among Somalis, who have been in “survival mode” for 30 years. He also called on Somali scholars and experts in Somalia and around the globe to join the efforts of the National Museum to reestablish the national collections through collecting and through return and restitution efforts.

Following the presentations, the Somali participants discussed the measures should Somalia adopt for the return and restitution of stolen and illicitly exported cultural property, preventive measures for cultural objects and protection of archaeological sites and movable heritage, as well as how to develop networks at local, national and regional levels to strengthen capacities and ensure awareness raising. The workshop resulted in a series of recommendations for priority actions  in the prevention and fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property in Somalia, which included: 1) the need to develop national legislation for the protection of cultural property; 2) ratification of UNESCO 1970 and UNIDROIT 1995 Conventions; 3) capacity building for museum practitioners and professionals; and 4) awareness-raising among local communities.

UNESCO and the Somali Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education are joining forces again next week for a two-day workshop on 24 and 25 May 2021 to validate the country’s National Culture Strategy and Action Plan, which will provide a roadmap to harness the power of Somali culture for sustainable development, peacebuilding, resilience and community empowerment.

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