President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania at UNESCOPresident Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania today opened a conference and an exhibition at UNESCO Headquarters celebrating the cultural heritage of Mauritania and its ancient cities of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata. During his visit the President also held talks with UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
Welcoming the President with words of praise for the successful campaign to safeguard the four World Heritage cities of Mauritania, Mr Matsuura spoke of the exemplary cooperation between the Government of Mauritania, UNESCO and the World Bank that made this campaign possible.
During the opening, the Director-General awarded UNESCO’s Nubia Campaign medal for exemplary international cooperation in the preservation of the cultural heritage of humanity to President Ould Taya.
“The historic and cultural importance of these ksour [cities],” Mr Matsuura declared, “justified that extensive efforts be undertaken to safeguard the trace of an urban civilization in the desert and stimulate their revitalization, through a strategy aiming to encourage rehabilitation initiatives and the promotion of processes, modalities and technical know-how contributing to economic, social and urban development.”
The Director-General stressed that “the participation of local communities and their deep awareness of the value of their cultural heritage has, without doubt, played a crucial role in the success of the project.” Speaking about the Fund created to support the rehabilitation of the historic centres of the ancient cities of Mauritania, Mr Matsuura said that the work undertaken will be continued and voiced the hope that donors would provide Mauritania with further assistance to this end.
Mr Matsuura also pointed out that the global project for the safeguarding and enhancement of the cultural heritage of Mauritania included “intangible heritage, essential to preserve the spirit of an ancient civilization […]. Nomad music, preservation of ancient manuscripts, as well as traditions and ancient crafts are thus also the focus of our attention.”
Jean-François Rischard, Vice President for Europe of the World Bank, also welcomed “the remarkable mobilization that progressively gathered momentum around an initiative which, at the outset, required a great spirit of enterprise and a taste for innovation, as well as considerable courage, because it was, by its very nature, risky.”
Mr Rischard stressed that the project included activities to reinforce Mauritania’s institutional capacities in heritage preservation, undertakings in favour of the country’s ancient manuscripts, support for livings cultures, assistance to crafts and the promotion of cultural tourism.
“Culture is a central and indispensable element for harmonious economic and social development,” Mr Rischard said. Arguing that culture helped avoid “potentially disastrous identity crises,” the Vice President predicted that as Mauritania is poised to become an oil exporting country it “will need to turn to its history and cultural heritage the better to build its future and, in particular, to manage the deep changes that are soon to take place.”
Finally, the President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania took the floor saying that the decision to inscribe those cities on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1996 “motivated us to increase efforts to preserve this invaluable heritage.”
President Ould Taya highlighted the importance of culture and cultural heritage for peace. “It is our heartfelt conviction, rooted in our ancient history, that dialogue is the best instrument for understanding among peoples and for the co-existence of [different] cultures,” he said, adding that “UNESCO is the most appropriate forum to express this conviction.”
Speaking of the international community’s mobilization against terrorism, the President highlighted the need to alleviate the sufferings of large regions of the world, particularly of Africa, to meet the aspiration for peace and stability. “It also requires placing technological and scientific advances at the service of humanity as a whole,” he said.
“In Mauritania, we are convinced that culture is the strongest boulder against racism, fanaticism and violence, as it contains the principles of tolerance, openness and acceptance of the other,” President Ould Taya declared before describing his country’s natural heritage preservation.
The exhibition about the rehabilitation of the cities of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata is on show at UNESCO through April 14. It has already been shown at the World Bank and is due to travel to the Adrar Museum in Atar (Mauritania).