By Thorsten Bothe (Guardian)
The number of tourists will increase significantly if the former slave-trade route, leading from Ujiji near Kigoma to Bagamoyo at the ocean's shore, would be listed as a "Cultural Heritage of the World" by UNESCO, experts have said.
"Examples from all over the world show that more visitors come after a town or a building has been named a Cultural Heritage" Gudrun Leirvaag, programme officer for culture and media at the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), explained yesterday.
SIDA is supporting the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, with its Department of Antiquities, and the University of Dar es Salaam College of Lands and Architectural Studies (UCLAS), the main institutions involved in the project on the Tanzanian side.
But before the country can once harvest the benefits like business- and job opportunities, fields are yet to be cultivated. "A nomination file we can send to UNESCO should be ready within the next three or four years", Fabian Kigadye, Conservator at the Antiquities Department, told this reporter.
According to Kigadye the idea of nominating Bagamoyo for the list grew in 1987. “By then, the Government focused on the very township as in the 19th century, it was a major trading center for slaves and ivory as well as starting point for Christian and Islamic missionaries, European explorers and also for the spread of Kiswahili language into the interior East Africa,” he added.
However, many of the historic buildings are no more than ruins now while others have even vanished completely. In 2002, during a conference of international experts held in Bagamoyo, it became obvious that the township alone would not meet all requirements to be listed as World Heritage. As a result, the whole idea was extended to the entire trade route.
Kigadye explained that recently, experts from UCLAS and the Antiquities Department travelled all the way from coast to Lake Tanganyika in order to report where reminders of the route - including landmarks and buildings such as forts used as slave-prisons - or even museums.
“They also traced the route whereever possible. There are parts where you can no longer see a route - but often elder people still remember where it used to be", the expert says. Elsewhere, the track is still used as footpath, or roads or a railway has been built on it,” he said.
He added: "We found great interest in our plans when we talked to the locals", he stresses. "Many have said that this initiative should have been taken years ago." On the other hand he notes that "others would like to see the history kept".
However renovating and maintaining the historical sites - of which many are in a poor condition -, but also things like the improvement of the infrastructure or a good training for tourist guides will cost a lot, according to Kigadye.
How much, he won't tell yet: "We're still working on the budget." But he is optimistic that the government will strongly support the project, that SIDA might help, and that the local authorities will share their part as well.
SIDA-expert Leirvaag stresses that cooperation of the people living along the route is essential for the success of the idea: "Participation of the people is what gives the plans the asset. They have to prepare for a growing number of visitors. Tourists have to be met by people who are aware of their heritage."
(Thorsten Bothe, German Journalist "Die Glocke", living in Rheda-Wiedenbrück/Germany, worked for Guardian/ Dar es Salaam as a trainee of Heinz-Kuehn-Foundation/Germany)