UB Establishes UNESCO Chair on African Heritage Studies and Sustainable Development

Susan KeitumetseThe University of Botswana has established a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chair Programme - African Heritage Studies and Sustainable Development.

This follows approval of a 2018 University of Botswana proposal to establish the programme, the first in Africa. UNESCO also approved appointment of Dr Susan Osireditse Keitumetse as Chairholder of the programme. A research scholar in Cultural Heritage Tourism at the Okavango Research Institute, Dr Keitumetse was appointed given her expertise and wide experience in both national and international heritage studies and sustainable development.

The UNESCO Chair Project is established for a period of four years. The UNITWIN/UNESCO programme was created in 1992 to promote international inter-university cooperation and networking and to enhance institutional capacities through knowledge sharing and collaborative work.  Through the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs network, higher education and research institutions from all corners of the globe can share resources, both human and material, and contribute to bridging the gap between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making.

 As for the University of Botswana, this is a way of diversifying networks and developing new programmes to ensure that it enhances its student enrolment. It will further attract more students and policy stakeholders as this will help UB develop more attractive courses. Most importantly, a partnership with UNESCO enhances public trust in the University of Botswana as a credible and internationally recognised institution. This will further boost UB’s image as the institution of choice to prospective students.

The UNESCO Chair Programme complements the University of Botswana’s newly launched transformational strategy which, among others, aims at creating more impactful stakeholder engagement. Therefore, when UB applied to UNESCO, it was from a realisation that despite Africa being a priority within the UNESCO's Medium-term strategy, there were limited platforms to take advantage of this position.

Consequently, creation of this Chair provides a platform for driving various research, teaching and policy interactions on African heritage and the international policy of sustainable development. On the other hand, African universities are faced and tasked with the modern need to develop courses that address real developmental challenges facing society today. Therefore, the focus on merging policy and practice espoused within the UNESCO Chair programme will enable the University of Botswana to address this challenge going forward.

One of the general objectives of the program is to address both UNESCO 1972 Convention on World Heritage and the UNESCO 2003 Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage. Often times in practice the two Conventions are treated separately. However, University of Botswana practical case studies on African grassroots research show that this approach limits sustainable conservation of African heritage where the difference between tangible and intangible heritage is blurred. As such, the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Studies and Sustainable Development will tap into trans-boundary environmental treaties Botswana has signed together with its regional partners and use these as case studies within the programme curriculum.

Already the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO Headquarters has held a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana to discuss a development of African World Heritage curriculum at the University. At a country level the Chair will further enable cross-sector collaboration with various government departments from key ministries in Botswana

Other general objectives of the UNESCO Chair on African Heritage Studies and Sustainable Development are to enhance interaction between academia and practitioners where cultural heritage matters are concerned. In addition, it is to disseminate modern heritage conservation knowledge and practices to practitioners, local actors and government officials from Botswana, the southern African region, and the African continent.

It will further conduct research on heritage in trans-boundary environments of southern Africa as well as create cross-sector interaction and idea-sharing collaboration on heritage and sustainability matters (institutional synergy).

In pursuit of academic excellence