African Archaeological Review

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 71–91 | Cite as

The Knowledge-Centred Approach to the Somali Cultural Emergency and Heritage Development Assistance in Somaliland

  • Sada MireEmail author
Original Article


Somalia has suffered a civil war since early 1991. Systematic looting, destruction and illicit excavation of sites continue without the international community (including academics, government organisations, heritage workers and humanitarian aid organisations) acknowledging this problem, let alone addressing it. The pre-war approaches to Somali cultural heritage lacked awareness-raising initiatives and basic dialogue with local communities, and hence remained uninformed about local views and methodologies regarding heritage. This has resulted in a lack of interest in building a local foundation and infrastructure for heritage management and archaeological research in the country. Today, it is clear that no measures were taken to protect cultural heritage during two decades of armed conflict in Somalia. Recently, archaeological material has become the target of ideologically motivated destruction. However, in post-conflict Somaliland, a self-declared, de facto country where there is peace and stability, possibilities for protection and management of cultural heritage exist. In order to carry out such work, an understanding of local practices is necessary. Hence, this paper presents unique research into local heritage management strategies and unveils indigenous heritage management methods, which the author refers to as the knowledge-centred approach. This approach emphasises knowledge and skill rather than objects, helping cultures such as the Somali, with strong oral transmission of knowledge, preserve their cultural heritage even in times of armed conflict. Also, this paper presents a critical assessment of the Somali cultural emergency as a whole and suggests ways of assisting different stakeholders in the protection of Somali heritage in the conflict and post-conflict eras.


Somali cultural heritage management Knowledge-centred approach Archaeology Emergency Development Somaliland 


La Somalie souffre d'une guerre civile depuis le début de 1991. Des pillages systématiques, des destructions et des excavations illicites de sites s'y déroulent sans que la communauté internationale (y compris les universitaires, les organismes gouvernementaux, les professionnels du patrimoine et les organismes d'aide humanitaire) ne reconnaisse ce problème, et ni ne cherche à le résoudre. Les approches d'avant-guerre de gestion du patrimoine culturel somalien n'ont vraisemblablement pas suffisamment sensibilisé les communautés locales ni établi un dialogue de base avec celles-ci; elles sont restées non informées des vues et méthodologies locales concernant ce patrimoine. Ceci a eu comme conséquence un manque d'intérêt pour l'établissement d'une fondation et d'une infrastructure locales permettant une gestion du patrimoine et une recherche archéologique dans le pays. Aujourd'hui, il est clair qu'aucune mesure n'a été prise afin de protéger le patrimoine culturel en période de conflit armé. Récemment, le matériel archéologique est devenu également la cible d'une destruction idéologiquement motivée. Cependant, dans le Somaliland d'après-conflit, où il y a paix et stabilité, des possibilités pour la protection et la gestion du patrimoine culturel sont concrètes. Afin, de mener à bien de tels travaux, une connaissance des pratiques locales est nécessaire. Par conséquent, cet article présente une recherche unique des stratégies de gestion du patrimoine et dévoile les méthodes indigènes en place, ce que l'auteur nomme l'Approche Centrée sur la Connaissance. Cette approche insiste sur la connaissance et sur la compétence plutôt que sur les supports matériels, aidant ainsi des cultures nomades et pastorales ayant une forte transmission orale de la connaissance comme la culture somalienne, à préserver leur patrimoine culturel même en période de conflit armé. En outre, cet article réclame une évaluation critique de la situation d'urgence du patrimoine culturel somalien dans son ensemble et suggère des manières d'aider les différents acteurs à protéger le patrimoine somalien en période de conflit et d'après-conflit.



I am grateful to Malcom Ferdinand and Marie Freynet for their help with the French translation of the abstract. I would like to thank Federica Sulas for her encouragement and support as well as very useful comments on drafts of this article. I am also grateful to Adria LaViolette who provided editorial support, and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable advice. Last but not least, I would like to thank my team in Somaliland; management of heritage in such a difficult place as Somaliland could not take place without their commitment and dedication. I, alone, am responsible for any shortcomings in this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Art and ArchaeologySOASLondonUK

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