Less than a tenth of the 1,154 sites classified as World Heritage by Unesco, places or properties which, according to the official definition, have a “Outstanding universal value”, are in Africa. But it is a Cameroonian who has been watching over these treasures since December 6. The symbol is strong. The appointment by the director of Unesco Audrey Azoulay of Lazare Eloundou Assomo, 53, to the direction of the World Heritage Center of the UN organization has not gone unnoticed.
“You can’t find Notre-Dame de Paris or the Eiffel Tower in Africa. Nevertheless: sacred forests, villages and many landscapes deserve to be recognized. »Lazare Eloundou Assomo
He is the first African appointed to this post, hence the series of congratulatory messages from all over the African continent, which hopes for recognition of its sites on par with the cathedrals of France or the Acropolis of Athens. In his office with a view of the Eiffel Tower, where his predecessors were mainly Westerners, this balanced man measures the historical dimension of his appointment.
In July, Gabon was certainly able to have the Ivindo national park classified, a treasure of biodiversity. But some countries, such as Sierra Leone and Somalia, do not have a single site listed by Unesco. However, classification is essential, in particular to protect them from perils, the ecological threat having been added to conflicts and looting.
The fragility of African heritage
Although Unesco was run from 1974 to 1987 by the Senegalese Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, the African continent freed from colonial powers has neglected its immemorial heritage. The administrative burden of application files as well as the classification criteria, built on Western biases – the definition of what pertains to heritage is not the same from one continent to another – have long played against southern countries.
“We do not find Notre-Dame de Paris or the Eiffel Tower in Africa, and not all countries have the equivalent of the pyramids of Egypt, indicates Lazare Eloundou Assomo. Nevertheless: sacred forests, villages and many landscapes deserve to be recognized. “ And the diplomat asked himself aloud: “How can we together correct African under-representativeness? “
“I know how to wear a tie when it comes to seeing a president and sitting on the floor to share the food of local communities. »Lazare Eloundou Assomo
The man is discreet. Almost a rule in the concrete building at 7e Parisian district which hosts Unesco. “People here don’t like to talk about themselves, it’s almost a nightmare for communicators”, recognizes a framework of the institution. But Lazare Eloundou Assomo is known for his finesse and his ability to adapt. “I know how to wear a tie when it comes to seeing a president, smiles the interested party with humor, and share, sitting on the ground, the food of the local communities. “
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Lazare Eloundou Assomo, an African at the UN to safeguard the treasures of humanity