As a result of a dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the ownership of the Bakasi Peninsula during the last two decades, other international disputed boundary areas have also been identified and properly delineated from the far north in Borno State to the Bakasi Peninsula in Cross River State, with a view to establishing international cooperation and a bilateral relationship that will bring peace and development between the two countries. To further strengthen the cordial relationship, experts and authorities of the African World Heritage programme jointly entered into an agreement in 2016 at Yaounde, Cameroon, for the joint preparation and submission of Korup Hill in Cameroon and Oban Hill in Nigeria as a transboundary World Heritage site.

Similarly, at the far north-east border of Nigeria, there is a wealth of opportunity to extend the Sukur Cultural Landscape as far as the Wandala Cultural Landscape on the Cameroonian territory, which will incorporate the historical areas identified in the early 1990s, when the Maya Wandala Project began archaeological and ethnohistoric investigations into the peoples of Mandara. In addition, the Mandara Archaeological Project (MAP) began again, with further research carried out in 2002. In 2007, 16 archaeological sites were mapped out as diy-geδ-bay (DGB) sites, which could all be used for extending a serial transboundary World Heritage property.

The civilization of the Wandala Cultural Landscape

The site is located at approximately 11°7′N and 14°10′ E on the Cameroonian territory. The landscape lies on the Mandara Mountains, which straddle the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Culturally, the area was inhabited by multiethnic groups which are dominated by the Maya-speaking group. The landscape is among the most ethnically diverse regions in Africa, with over 40 ethnic groups recorded in the Extreme North Region alone (Seignobos, 2000; cf. Kimberly, 1996).

The Maya civilization emerged as a centralized state over the past 600 years in the same way as many of their neighbours, both on the mountains and on the plains, including Sukur. In addition, the peoples all speak languages belonging to the Chadic family. The Wandala landscape in the southern Chad basin encompasses the Maya civilization in the Cameroonian territory and the Sukur civilization on the Nigerian side of the lofty plateau of the Mandara highlands. The two civilizations were contemporaneous from the sixteenth century AD (David, 1993) without defined boundaries until the colonial period and the subsequent partition of Africa.

The literature examined investigates a number of concepts, analogies, artistic and literary works of the Maya civilization on the great Wandala landscape in the southern Chad basin, with evidence of cultural identity, socio-economic activities, and the popular and cultural evolution in the region over the last six centuries into a centralized polity.

The people are also known by the name ‘Mandma’, the label given to them by their Kanuri neighbours from the historic Bomo State to the north-west (Kimberly, 1996). On the other hand, some individual massifs such as Gudur, Diamare and Mpaskali are named after the Montagnard people who live there (David and MacEachern, 1988). In general, however, the communities living on the Mandara highlands practise similar socio-economic activities and have actively altered their terrain, e.g. terracing on the mountains and surrounding inselbergs which slows down erosion for as long as the terraces are maintained, adds water retention qualities to the soils and increases agricultural yields.

Research and documentation on the peoples of the Mandara has been carried out by various scholars in both the Nigerian and the Cameroonian territories. In the early 1990s, the Maya Wandala Project, headed by Nicholas David, began archaeological and ethnohistoric investigations. This was followed by the MAP, headed by Scott MacEachern, which started in 2002 and explored the historical evolution of the diverse ethnic groups. Thereafter, the DGB project, also headed by Scott MacEachern, followed in 2007, where 16 archaeological sites were investigated and documented. The 16 DGB sites were characterized by drystone architecture in the form of walls, corals, gates and silos, among others.

The Mandara International Peace Park

The Mandara International Peace Park is located on the Mandara highlands at the border of north-west Cameroon and north-east Nigeria. The project was jointly proposed by Nigeria and Cameroon, in order to enable the States Parties to (i) establish a cordial relationship between the communities, with a view to reducing the incursions of the Boko Haram sect in the region; and (ii) to extend the World Heritage site of Sukur to the Cameroonian territory, since there are similarities in the communities’ living heritage and socio-economic activities. The park seeks to reunite peoples on the border who have been displaced by insurgency, and to imbue a culture of conservation through the development of sustainable eco-tourism on the plateau, enabling visitors to enjoy the benefits of the surrounding cultural and natural resources.

Immediate actions to facilitate inscription and management

In an area as large as the Mandara highlands, characterized by natural environmental beauty and a high-density population in absolute poverty, it is imperative that people know and understand the benefits of the beautiful cultural heritage and the aesthetic importance of the landscape before their actions destroy them.

The extension will require expanding the core area and the buffer zone of Sukur Cultural Landscape in order to incorporate the 16 DGB sites on the Wandala landscape, making a single transboundary World Heritage property. It will further involve expanding and incorporating other physical attributes, intangible heritage and tour packages, which were examined in the available literature, along with historical information and maps for defining the boundary. The Cameroonian Government needs to put in place structures and a management committee similar to those of Sukur Cultural Landscape, which will facilitate liaison and enable them to sustainably manage and develop their own site.

The two States Parties should jointly examine the natural features of the entire tangible and intangible heritage to produce an acceptable statement of Outstanding Universal Value, which will present the state of integrity and authenticity and describe the values of all the attributes. Items of intangible heritage include festivals and ceremonies, folklores, rites and incantations. The site on the Cameroonian territory should equally have a separate management plan for the purpose of conservation and protection, to align with the recommendations of the 1972 UNESCO Convention.Footnote 1

In addition, the two States Parties must jointly produce a serial transnational conservation management plan, based on a cycle of at least five years, in addition to the existing individual site. The management plan should contain elements from the existing plans, such as management, conservation, protection, sustainable development, research and documentation. The plan should also specify actions, partnerships, synergies and community involvement, and identify the stakeholders for a participatory management system.

The traditional management system of each site should be enshrined in the modern conservation and management systems developed for the serial transboundary World Heritage property. The Central Conservation Management Plan should clearly detail community participation in the conservation and preservation of drystone architecture, vernacular buildings, terraced farming system, animal husbandry and iron metallurgy. The involvement of private partnerships will help in getting the local communities to see the benefit of their heritage.

The two State Parties should convene another round-table conference to articulate the importance of the International Peace Park and to draw up a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU should include the utilization of the park and the benefits that will accrue to both States Parties in the areas of poverty eradication, community sensitization, socio-cultural ceremonies and the construction of a centre to provide a basic infrastructure for sustainable development.

Justification for the extension of the World Heritage property

The two landscapes are located in close proximity to one another, with very few international restrictions among the border communities, which could potentially facilitate movement across the diverse expanse of land area. Culturally, the civilizations have demonstrated an important interchange in human values on the Mandara highlands over time, in particular with regard to socio-religious values and the worship of ancestors, socio-economic activities, such as the terrace system of farming, and cattle fattening. In addition, the drystone technology and the vernacular architecture show the great impact of human interaction on the environment, which has continued to define the existence and relationships of the hilltop communities.

On settlement patterns, most of the communities are situated on high plateaus in northern Adamawa and the Kapsiki area of French Cameroon, with unique stone architecture and adaptations with the environment. The Maya civilization, just like Sukur in the region, is a supreme repository of the dynastic concept of divine kingship, with centralized institutions of traditional authority, and enjoys a spiritual pre-eminence in the same way as other notable kingdoms in West Africa.

On the tradition of origin, David and Sterner (1992) supported the claims of oral traditions of the Sukur people that they migrated to the present-day settlement not from Gudur, but from Mpsakali (a toponym possibly related to Mpasakali), a massif on the edge of Diamare plain, some 10 km east of the Gudur massif in the French Cameroon territory (Figurs 1, 2 and 3).

Figure 1.
figure 1

Map of Sukur and Wandala landscape (The names and boundaries shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations). Source: Anthony Sham.

Figure 2.
figure 2

Drystone vernacular architecture of the peoples of the Mandara highland © Anthony Sham.

Figure 3
figure 3

Terracing of farmlands on the Mandara highland © Anthony Sham.

Attributes conveying Outstanding Universal Value

  1. 1.

    The 16 DGB sites are complexes of drystone architecture with platforms on the Maya landscape. Other features include staircases, passageways, internal chambers, silos and courtyards. They are the earliest well-established evidence of human occupation of this mountainous region, with the largest and most complex examples of stone architecture known to date from Central Africa.

  2. 2.

    Terraced farmlands with step-level benches are still maintained, which reduces soil erosion and stabilizes the soil nutrients for adaptable hilltop farming.

  3. 3.

    There is evidence of iron smelting technology with different types and sizes of furnaces on the archaeological sites.

  4. 4.

    From the scientific and conservation point of view, the biodiversity is unique, with different species of plants and animals.

  5. 5.

    The presence of local indigenous crafts to support livelihoods, such as brass casting, pottery and basketry, among others, are evidence of cultural continuity.

  6. 6.

    The unique geological formations include spectacular rock formations of massive outcrops, boulders and overhang.


Maya and Sukur are both living heritage, faithfully evolved from the Wandala language phylum on the Mandara plateau, with common cultural practices and beliefs.

The two civilizations are in close proximity to one another, with limited barrier movement, despite the international boundary.

The proposed establishment of the International Peace Park will provide an enabling environment for socio-economic activities, enhance relationships between the communities and bring peace and development to the border communities on the highland.

With regard to civil unrest, the communities are now beginning to realize and understand that unity and peace cannot be compromised because of the adverse effect of Boko Haram on the communities in the region. Therefore, the people are now ready to live in peace, and to protect their lives and properties.

The conservation, preservation and protection of the heritage will be enhanced through participatory conservation and management systems, in order to derive the benefits needed to sustain livelihoods.

Conclusion and recommendations

The ethnic groups from the Wandala language phylum in the Mandara region are numerous, but the Maya and Sukur civilizations – although identical – evolved side by side as a living heritage, with active cultural practices, belief systems, and artistic and literary works of Outstanding Universal Value. The extension criteria will require the conservation and preservation of these landscapes through traditional and modern systems, so that the authenticity and integrity of their physical attributes will not be significantly modified.

In view of the above, a single comprehensive conservation management plan needs to be produced, using strategies for conservation and management according to the Operational Guidelines of the 1972 UNESCO Convention.

Heritage experts working in Nigeria and Cameroon should include the establishment of the International Peace Park Project in the MOU to stimulate actions that will bring unity and peace to the border communities, so that they can understand how to benefit from their natural resources and remove civil unrest.

The two States Parties should immediately begin the process of compiling a nomination dossier, through their appropriate agencies, for the extension of Sukur Cultural Landscape to the 16 DGB sites on the Wandala Landscape as a serial transboundary World Heritage property. This will involve collaboration with heritage experts, host communities, governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The DGB sites, historic settlements and sacred sites on the Wandala Landscape should be mapped out as the core area, while cultural festivals, ceremonies, ritual rites and other cultural practices of the living communities should be documented as intangible heritage for the extension, and a buffer zone should be created.

There should also be a round-table sensitization conference for the communities around the World Heritage property on the wise use of heritage and the role of the community in its safeguarding. This will be jointly organized by the authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon. In addition, regular consultative stakeholder meetings should be included in the early management system for the border communities, in order to undertake all actions on the site with honesty and dedication.

In preparation for the production of the extension dossier, the responsible agency of the Republic of Cameroon should begin the following processes as soon as possible:

  • Mapping out of the site

  • Production of the conservation management plan

  • Litigation for protection of the site

  • Listing the attributes that convey values.