: Utilising Marine Cultural Heritage in East Africa to help develop sustainable social, economic and cultural benefits

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of History, Classics and Archaeology


The Rising from the Depths network will identify how the tangible submerged and coastal Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, and its associated intangible aspects, can stimulate, ethical, inclusive and sustainable growth in the region. The multidisciplinary project team (experienced in challenge-led research and KE in ODA environments) will determine ways in which MCH can directly benefit East African communities and local economies, building identity, stimulating alternative sources of income (reducing poverty), and enhancing the value and impact of overseas aid in the maritime sector. East Africa is undergoing a period of profound change as the economy of the region gains momentum, driven by changing internal dynamics and by external interests. The region's maritime zone is central to these developments with offshore exploration for oil and gas deposits driving investment, coupled with major financing of new and established ports to facilitate trade with the Gulf countries. In addition to aid and investment from both the UK and other western governments, China and Saudi Arabia are funding major infrastructural and development projects across the region. While these developments have the potential to realise short-term economic, developmental and employment benefits, there has been little consideration of the impact of this work on the region's submerged and coastal heritage.

Nascent maritime research in East Africa is just beginning to reveal the extent of maritime cultures and traditions across the region as well as the evidence for wider maritime activity that connected this coast to the broader Indian Ocean region. The sea in East Africa is a connector, a facilitator of communications, a supplier of resources that sustains life and an environment that is rooted in the belief systems of coastal peoples. For millennia this coast has been embedded within broader political and socio-economic domains, and witness to multiple migrations, invasions and trade activity. Its port towns and cities were intrinsically connected to a wider mercantile maritime world, ensuring it became one of the most culturally dynamic and diverse regions throughout history. It was, and continues to be, a region of continuous transformation and subject to a variety of anthropogenic and natural drivers of change. Development agreements very rarely take account of cultural heritage even though access to it is considered a fundamental human right. East African counties currently have little capacity to protect or explore their rich maritime heritage and, as a result, the socio-economic potential of MCH has yet to be realised. Worse, while the submerged resource is being impacted by marine exploitation, commercial salvage and offshore industry, the coastal resource is being threatened by building and development work as well as climatic and environmental change and even some green-energy projects. MCH is a fragile and finite resource, which once destroyed can never be recovered.

This project will establish and maintain a transboundary and cross-sector network of arts and humanities-led researchers, government officers, scientists, policy makers, UN officials, NGOs, ICT professionals and specialists working in heritage, infrastructure and the offshore industry, to consider in what ways MCH can create long-lasting social, economic and cultural benefits in the region. The project will identify new opportunities and methodologies for arts and humanities research in an aid context and add value to coastal infrastructure and offshore development projects. Key mechanisms of engagement will be through the co-production of a Research and KE Framework, Innovation Projects and KE activities.

The nations of coastal East Africa have aspirations to transform themselves into a thriving maritime gateway of trade and investment. The past has an active role in not only informing this development but in helping drive it.

Planned Impact

The Rising from the Depths project will fill knowledge gaps that currently limit the way that Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) contributes to culturally and economically sustainable growth and the alleviation of poverty in East Africa, delivering impacts across three primary stakeholder groups.

Community: Local communities are struggling to retain their cultural identities in the face of rapidly expanding development, contributing to their lack of 'voice' in important economic and cultural decisions affecting their lives. Cultural heritage plays a vital role in redressing this, supporting individuals and communities to convey identities and values, foster social inclusion and sense of belonging (UNESCO 2015). This project will provide new knowledge about cultural identities beyond 'Swahili', through an open-source MCH Usable Past online platform and community projects run in partnership with local museums and schools for sustainability.

Industry: Offshore oil and gas extraction is a growth industry in East Africa, a key part of regional economic growth plans, and focus of significant amounts of overseas aid. Despite this, knowledge of MCH as an economic and cultural resource is missing from debates about the sustainable development of coastal and marine environments in East Africa. Rising from the Depths will:
1 provide a deep time perspective through data sets relating to sea level change and human responses to climatic change over millennia resulting in stronger coastal resilience planning and the development of integrated Coastal Zone Management plans that will protect EA communities and their associated heritage and environmental assets.
2 Stimulate growth in heritage tourism. At present MCH is not part of strategies aimed at developing the sustainable tourist industry in coastal East Africa, which focuses entirely on natural resources like wildlife and coral reefs. Through targeted projects around MCH sites and the MCH Useable Past web platform, the richness of East Africa MCH will be communicated to a wider national and international audience allowing a heritage tourism economy to develop.
3 Contribute to job creation in professional archaeology as infrastructure and development projects driven by national economic targets increase.
4 Contribute to growth in supply chain and derivative industries related to heritage through access to the open-source data (i.e. creative industries and museums in the region, museum installations and electronic publishing companies, and other content-based creative industries).

Policy-makers: MCH is not currently part of the international, national or local development policy landscape, leading to environmental degradation and economic under use. At the local and national level the project will inform local and national approaches to coastal management, sustainable tourism, and public access to MCH. The project will also consider, for the first time, the benefits of including MCH in development aid and private investment agreements in an East Africa context - both in terms of right to access, and the obligation to protect MCH. This will lead to more effective policies that articulate the value of MCH as a human right, an economic asset, and an integral part of community and individual identity-building. The outcomes of improved, interconnected international, national and local policy will be an increase in the cultural and economic value of East Africa heritage, and an enhanced role for it in local and national economic growth strategies. Direct beneficiaries will be UNESCO, Government officials, heritage professionals, aid specialists, and NGOs dealing with aid.
Common to all impact activity will be an element of capacity-building both for the core research team, the research community of participating HEIs in the region, and members of the three key stakeholder groups identified here.

For SDG impact see ODA Compliance Statement and Pathways doc.


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Ichumbaki E (2020) Valuing the Swahili Cultural Heritage: A Maritime Cultural Ecosystem Services Study from Kilwa, Tanzania in Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/R005443/1 01/10/2017 31/08/2020 £1,958,906
AH/R005443/2 Transfer AH/R005443/1 01/09/2020 30/06/2022 £860,538