Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the first African to head Unesco's world heritage

At 53, Cameroonian Lazare Eloundou Assomo becomes the new director of UNESCO's world heritage.

© Unesco

Text by: Isabelle Chenu Follow

3 min

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of Unesco has just appointed the new Director of Unesco's World Heritage, who for the first time is an African.

Lazare Eloundou Assomo, 53, Cameroonian, until then headed the “Culture and emergency situations” sector within Unesco.

Next year, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention signed by 193 States will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

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1,154 sites are currently inscribed on the

World Heritage List

.

For Lazare Eloundou Assomo, new director of world heritage, there is still a lot to do: “ 

Many regions in the world are not sufficiently represented, especially Africa and the small island states.

It is not because we do not have an Eiffel Tower that the sites are not important or do not have outstanding universal value.

We will launch a dialogue with all States to correct this imbalance.

 "

Our sincere congratulations to Lazare Eloundou Assomo, appointed today as Director of the World Heritage Center, Culture Sector Paris (France) by Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO.

@elounasso #Unesco_fr pic.twitter.com/UI4WuEJLrg

- UNESCO YAOUNDE #Education #Sciences #Culture #Comm (@UnescoYaounde) December 6, 2021

An exemplary career

Lazare Eloundou Assomo left Cameroon at the age of 17 to study architecture and town planning in France. He began his career as an associate researcher at the International Center for Earth Construction at the Grenoble School of Architecture in 1996. His first professional steps took him to South Africa where he built housing in townships.

His work is praised by Nelson Mandela

, who travels to the site where he works. “ 

A nice surprise

,” he recalls

, “and a moment that you won't forget in your life. He invited me for tea because the way we worked with the communities to meet their needs corresponded to his way of doing things.

 "

Lazare Eloundou Assomo joined Unesco in 2003. He contributes to the creation of the African World Heritage Fund and coordinates several heritage restoration projects in Africa, in particular in Mozambique (the fortress of the Ilha World Heritage site), in Uganda and in Mali. We owe him the book “African World Heritage: A Remarkable Diversity”, co-written with Ishanlosen Odiaua and published in 2012 by Unesco.

In Mali, between 2013 and 2016, he headed the Unesco office in Bamako, with the

mission of rebuilding, rehabilitating and resacralizing the mausoleums of Timbuktu

destroyed by the jihadists. A vast project undertaken with the know-how of the different communities, in difficult security conditions. The success of this Unesco heritage project earned Lazare Eloundou Assomo the medal of Commander of the National Order of Mali, on a foreign basis. This Malian mission made it possible for the first time to have the destruction of world heritage recognized as a war crime. For the first time, the peacekeeping mission in Mali has had a mandate to protect culture. A victory.

The UNESCO World Heritage Convention is 50 years old.

And now ?

Other challenges await the new Director of World Heritage, who since 2018 held the post of Director of Culture and Emergencies.

This is already an opportunity to focus on several crucial projects: devastating conflicts, disasters and the

restitution of cultural property

under the 1970 Convention. If the restitution of cultural property takes place from State to State, many sites world heritage have museums that will accommodate returned objects.

Reconciling heritage and development but also adapting to global warming are now added to the long list of challenges to be taken up.

We see a lot of fires, floods, the advance of the desert threaten the sites,

 " says Lazare Eloundou Assomo.

In 2022, the World Heritage Convention will celebrate its half-century.

It will not only be a question of celebrating the number of sites inscribed on the world heritage list

 ", assures Lazare Eloundou Assomo, but rather of wondering and taking stock.

What have we managed to do for fifty years?

Where are we today ?

World heritage has, more than ever, its place to promote peace and cooperation through culture.

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