Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar are among the least developed countries in the world and the most vulnerable to the impacts of geopolitical turmoil and environmental change. They are also the focus of global resource exploitation: major off-shore oil and gas discoveries are driving international investment, as is the development of super ports to facilitate maritime trade. While port construction and offshore exploration for oil and gas deposits are bringing economic benefits to East Africa, these developments, along with activities such as underwater cabling, dredging, laying pipelines and underwater mining are threatening the region’s rich submerged and coastal MCH – the latter already at risk from sea level change. In addition while donor countries and investors profit from such developments it is less clear how much of this profit trickles down to local communities particularly those most at risk. Coastal communities in the region already face challenges caused by coastal erosion, dwindling fish resources and unsustainable fishing practices – infrastructure developments can acerbate these problems from increasing coastal erosion to developers grabbing land and forcing people to move. The fast pace of this change risks exposing already vulnerable coastal groups to greater risks of exploitation (e.g. from low-pay to modern slavery) and insecurity (climate, food, shelter, land).
Development agreements rarely take account of cultural heritage even though access to it is considered a fundamental human right, and the potential value of cultural heritage for promoting sustainable, resilient societies is increasingly recognized globally. The role MCH could play in development aid success (and the success of private instruments for development) particularly in relation to coastal infrastructure and offshore extraction projects has not yet been realised and research in this area is lacking.
Climate and environment changes through increased storm activity and changing sea levels are also having a dramatic impact on coastal and maritime sites in East Africa while protection projects and adaptation strategies are often further compounding the issues due to a lack of historical baseline data. The broader geopolitical and economic landscape does not bode well for the future protection and enhancement of the coastal and maritime resource.
ODA recipient countries such as those in East Africa lack the capacity to properly emphasise the contribution to development that can be made by the protection and promotion of cultural rights. These issues – the importance of heritage for cultural and economic development, and the need for capacity building – are particularly relevant in the context of East Africa’s MCH.
It is the main contention of the Rising from the Depths network that MCH has an important but so far completely unappreciated role to play in the long term sustainability and ultimately the success of coastal and marine development. We aim to communicate the significance of MCH from the bottom up and the top down – from the grassroots through work directly with local groups to effect community level change while at the same time engage at the national government and international level through considering relevant development law and policies.
We want to fund projects that will fill knowledge gaps that currently limit the way that Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) contributes to culturally and economically sustainable growth in East Africa, delivering impacts across three primary stakeholder groups – local communities, industry and policy. Projects should engage and include stakeholders from one or more of these three areas: community, policy and industry.