A few weeks ago, Kenya was, once again, on the global map of fame and recognition. Fort Jesus, an ancient 418-year-old castle at the Kenya Coast had become a world heritage site. The legendary fort had joined 935 properties inscribed on the prestigious World Heritage List. This was during UNESCO’s 35th World Heritage Committee session in France.
Twenty-five new inscriptions joined the list at the event. UNESCO maintains the World Heritage List. The inscription puts Fort Jesus in the same international standing as the Old City of Jerusalem and the Egyptian pyramids.
So what does this mean for the coastal tourist attraction that receives an average of 170,000 visitors every year? Inscription of property on the World Heritage List comes with a certain level of prestige. The recognition often helps to raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation.
The direct result of this awareness means Fort Jesus can now receive greater attention from the government. It guarantees its future preservation and protection. The new status also means more money. It also comes with greater expert advice from the World Heritage Committee towards the preservation of Fort Jesus.
Since its inception, UNESCO, through its foundation, The World Heritage Fund, has contributed over USD 32 million for the effective management and protection of natural World Heritage sites around the world.
To make it to the World Heritage List, properties must be of outstanding universal value. They must meet at least one of 10 selection criteria outlined below:
- To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.
- They should exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.
- Properties must bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization that is living or which has disappeared.
- They should provide an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.
- To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
- To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions. This can be ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (This should preferably be used alongside other criteria).
- To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
- To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history. Part of this includes the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
- To be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.
- To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity. This includes those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Fort Jesus is part of the Mombasa city tour circuit. The circuit includes Old Town, Old Port, Akamba Handicraft, Mamba Village and Ngomongo Village.
It is our hope that the government can take advantage of this prestigious status to position this coastal town. Lamu, also inscribed in the list, has so far not reaped much from this honour. Many reasons exist but the pressing one is poor infrastructure so it is not all smiles yet for Mombasa.