On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, Angola was added to UNESCO’s “Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.” The African nation will officially enter into the Convention three months following this date, on May 7, 2012.
The “Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” was originally adopted in 1954, following the unprecedented destruction of cultural heritage during World War II. It is the first international treaty dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage in the event of warfare and armed conflict. The Convention was adopted with a Protocol, which prohibits export of cultural property from occupied territory and requires that such property be returned to the state from which it was removed.
Like many African nations, Angola has endured unspeakable hardships. The country has suffered decades of bloody civil wars, in which millions were killed and more than one third of the country’s population was displaced. International attention was eventually turned to the conflict and to the role played by the illegal diamond trade in funding the war. In recent years, the country’s crude oil production has led to greater economic growth and development, but most Angolans still live in poverty.
Perhaps Angola’s participation in the UNESCO Convention will not only protect its cultural heritage, but may also bolster the country’s economic and social development. In 2007, UNESCO held a three-day conference in Mbanza Kongo attended by international experts on preserving the cultural heritage of the war-torn nation. Angola has a rich history and the conference focused specifically on the Kingdom of Kongo, which was dominant in west central Africa until the Portuguese landed in the late 15th century. During the conference, Boaventura Cardoso, the Angolan Minister of Culture, made an appeal for the preservation and valuing of the national cultural heritage to enable current and future generations to learn about their history. Also at the conference, Claudia Harvey, UNESCO’s representative for sub-Saharan Africa, stated that “cultural heritage can contribute the country’s sustainable development and poverty eradication, stimulate the full participation of communities, preserve sites of the cultural heritage, and facilitate the appreciation of intangible aspects and their economic benefits.”