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Lack of resources puts Kenya's heritage sites at risk

 A view of Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa.[Omondi Onyango/Standard]

The National Museums of Kenya has not prioritised the preservation and restoration of heritage sites, exposing deterioration of the sites.

Heritage sites are unique landmarks that are geographically and historically identifiable and have special cultural or physical significance.

They include ruins, historical structures, buildings, cities, monuments, places of natural beauty, or significant land formations.

National Museums indicates that as of January 2023, Kenya had 398 gazetted, out of which 71 were under National, Public 146, Community 103, and 78 under private.

But according to the Office of the Auditor General, the Directorate of Antiquities, Sites, and Monuments (Dasm) did not consolidate requests for preservation and restoration into work plans and conservation budget for onward transmission to the Finance Department.

The report “Conservation of Heritage Sites by the National Museums”, presented to the National Assembly last month, says Dasm only presented operational budgets and no conservation budgets.

"In absence of conservation budgets, allocating funds for conservation activities is difficult. There is need to prioritise preparation of conservation work plans and budgets,” says Auditor General Nancy Gathungu.

The lack of a work plan budget not only delayed plans to conserve the sites, but also crippled plans to digitise and restore heritage sites.

The report revealed that 27 Heritage Sites had not been structurally digitised despite the National Museums of Kenya adopting Google Culture to market the heritage sites.

The delay in structural digitisation was attributed to the absence of expertise and equipment within the National Museums of Kenya.

Interviews with the National Museums staff revealed that only three; Fort Jesus, Gede National Monument, and Thimlich Ohingo UNESCO World Heritage Site had been structurally digitised through private student research activities.

“In absence of digital backup, heritage sites face the risk of loss in case of destruction or deterioration as they cannot be reconstructed or recast with precise measurements and requisite information,” reads the report.

The sites have been exposed to misuse, vandalism, and different forms of encroachment including land grabbing. In her report, Dr Gathungu recommends the finalization process in devolving museum functions as per the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 to ease the budgetary constraint relating to the conservation of heritage sites.

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