The UNESCO Slave Route Project

The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), September 2015 | Go to article overview

The UNESCO Slave Route Project


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a specialized agency of the United Nations in association with Fait a Cuba and Vallois gallery will host a seminar, and exhibit and a performance on the history and memory of enslavement, September 4-11, 2015 in Paris, France. Hence, UNESCO will celebrate the Slave Route project's 20th anniversary at its Paris headquarters in September.

A live webcast of the 20th anniversary celebration will be available at www.unesco.org. Using the hashtag#slaveroute, audiences may share their thoughts with illustrious speakers, such as H.E. Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal; H.E. Joachim Chissano, former President of the Republic of Mozambique; Christiane Taubira, French Minister of Justice; Michäelle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti; and Marcus Miller. Musical traditions, born from the route of enslavement, will also be performed by Tazenco Gwo ka a; Anuanga, Masaï dancer; Mary Paz, Cuban eletropercussion; Gnawa music group Sefarat' al khafaâ; Brazilian music group Afro Samba Project.

The Slave Route Project, launched in Ouidah, Benin, in 1994, has three objectives, namely to: contribute to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, issues and consequences of enslavement in the world (Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, Middle East and Asia); highlight the global transformations and cultural interactions that have resulted from this history; and contribute to a culture of peace by promoting reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships. The project has played a significant role in securing recognition by the United Nations, at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban in 2001, of the slave trade and enslavement (slavery) as crimes against humanity.

Interestingly, Ali Moussa Iye, the chief of the Slave Route Project says that "At the proposal of Haiti and of African countries, UNESCO established The Slave Route project. We're careful to take a holistic and non-accusatory approach, so as to restore dialogue. We must understand this tragedy that divided humanity; keeping this historic fact shrouded in silence is an obstacle to building peace and reconciliation. UNESCO has succeeded in placing the Slave Trade on the international agenda, while developing scientific knowledge about the issue and raising awareness globally. In addition to contributing to the recognition of enslavement as a crime against humanity, we helped proclaim 23 August as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. We established National "Slave Route" Committees (Cuba, Haiti, Benin, Portugal, Mexico, Ghana, etc.) and networks of scientific institutions (Latin America, Caribbean, Arab-Muslim World, Indian Ocean, Americas, Europe, etc.)."

By launching the Slave Route Project in 1994, UNESCO sought to promote the rapprochement of peoples through the shared heritage of this tragedy. The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Slave Route Project was thus an opportunity to revisit the road travelled, and the efforts made so as this tragedy becomes a source of inspiration for present and future generations.

In a warm tribute in 2014, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has described the Slave Route Project to be "one of UNESCO's flagship projects", implying that "if the crime involved many nations, the memory of the crime can now, inversely, bring together nations and show irreversible connections that have been created between peoples. …

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