PEOPLE engaged in conservation of cultural heritage in Zanzibar are worried that some buildings are increasingly under threat due to urbanization and lack of public awareness about the importance of retaining the Stone Town architectural and historic identity.
Insufficient funds for maintenance and unauthorized repair of the historical buildings are other challenges threatening Stone Town, which won the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognition almost two decades ago.
Only few people living outside the Stone Town are aware that the area is under threat of losing its heritage status if workable measures are not taken to maintain it.
The area is one of the famous tourist attractions in the East African region.
Few historical buildings have been renovated and changed into tourists’ hotels, and some, like the famous House of Wonders and Sultan People’s Palace have just won support from the Oman Government for major repairs.
People engaged in the conservation campaign of Stone Town say that public awareness is still lacking in conservations efforts.
The Stone Town Heritage Society (ZSTHS) has been organizing meetings and workshops on preserving the historical town with support from the European Union (EU) through its project, Civil Society Participation and Advocacy for Heritage Conservation and Promotion (CSPAHCP).
The Zanzibar Non-State Actors Programme (ZANSAP) supervises the 16-month CSPAHCP project, highly anticipated to transform the Stone Town from the current threats of collapse to a sustainably maintained town.
The workshop entitled Zanzibar Community Forum- Leadership Capacity Building Training was attended by about 20 participants, mainly local leaders, planners, businesspeople and leaders of public institutions.
The meeting was another important step in the on-going campaign to conserve Stone Town focusing on leadership skills.
Over the course of the three-day training, participants, led by veteran media practitioner Mariam Hamdan, made insightful contributions about challenges and how to move forward in having a sustainable Stone town.
Following the productive discussion under the facilitation of experts from Peak Performance (PP) organization, the participants renewed their commitment towards implementation of the project.
At the end of the course they crafted a vision statement: “A Trusted partnership in Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage and Conservation for inclusive development” with a rallying call “Stone Town-Our Shared Heritage.”
The mission statement crafted after the course is “The Stone Town Stakeholders Forum Strives to Promote Heritage Conservation for Development” under the values of recognition, solidarity, integrity, and commitment.
Facilitator Phillemon Kisamo, the Managing Director of Peak Performance, said people must work together to protect Stone Town which has multiple advantages to Zanzibar.
He said the government’s intervention to preserve the area is absolutely essential because financial and technical support is needed to repair buildings at risk of being destroyed.
“There are people asking about the importance of Stone Town. Reasons why we should preserve heritage sites are now obvious,” Mr Kisamo said.
“We should educate the public about why heritage is important, and how to protect it,” he added.
Munira Humoud, the Stone Town project manager, said the pressure of development-- increase of businesses, movement of traffic, and sheer negligence--are the challenges in conserving the area.
UNESCO says an integrated and sustainable conservation and development approaches are urgently needed in order to develop practical sustainable management strategies to ensure that the overall coherence of the town and its highly distinctive town planning, architecture and traditional methods and materials of construction are sustained.
Currently, the heritage is protected under several laws but has not been effective in protecting the Stone Town.
The laws include the Ancient Monuments Act of 1948, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1955, which also provides a clause to protect historically important houses.
The Town and Country Planning Act of 1955, and the Stone Town Conservation and Development Act of 1994 and the associated Master Plan which specifies actions and strategies to be taken to safeguard, conserve and develop the values of the Stone Town, are other laws being used.
The major buildings in Stone Town date from the 18th and 19th centuries and include monuments such as the Old Fort, built on the site of an earlier Portuguese church; the House of Wonder, a large ceremonial palace built by Sultan Barghash, the Old Dispensary, and St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Other historical sites are the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral commemorating the work of David Livingstone in abolishing the slave trade and built on the site of the last slave market.
UNESCO), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) Monitoring Mission in Stone Town for the last few years have also pointed out the need to improve the conservation area management and monitoring system.
Humoud says stakeholders are required to be committed in protecting the Stone Town before it becomes too late.
“The overall objective of the action is to increase the role of civil society in the promotion and conservation of Zanzibar heritage as a generator of inclusive development,” she says.