ISDAF –Activities and Plans 

Activities 2020-2022 

In 2021, the founders of ISDAF collaborated with several institutions to raise funds to hold a workshop in Zanzibar, Tanzania with colleagues from Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, France, the United Kingdom, Germany the USA and Canada to examine why ESIAs fail to address cultural heritage, and the repercussions of this failure. Institutions that assisted with the workshop include the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS), Rio Rancho, New Mexico, USA; Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Berlin, Germany; Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA; SRI Foundation, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, USA; State University of Zanzibar, Zanzibar, Tanzania; The Musée de l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN), Universite Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal; University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; University Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and; University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. 

The workshop was held in Zanzibar, Tanzania in August 2022. We examined the impact of insufficient coordination with LID communities during the scoping, planning and development of infrastructure, and largescale conservation projects in Uganda and Tanzania. The working group identified several issues that need to be addressed to improve conditions for LID communities. The Zanzibar working group recognized the power imbalance between the pressure for economic development and the desire to preserve traditional lifeways and places in many East African countries. These pressures, of course, are not unique to East Africa but are manifested in different ways throughout the globe. Models exist from other developing countries that have more successfully addressed the balance of power between these two objectives. This is a discipline-wide problem that demands cooperation across national boundaries to craft legislative and regulatory language that is adapted to particular situations. Workshop participants pledged to work together as well as solicit other colleagues to join in this effort.

The working group also determined that the traditional ways of collecting and presenting ethnographic data are Euro-centric. Cultural heritage specialists need to adapt how they collect information so that it more accurately represents the concerns and interests of LID communities. Specialists need to be mindful in how the information is reported back to the communities. At present, LID communities are never informed of how the information they provided was used in the EIR or ESIA. If documents are provided to them for their review, they are technical documents written in English and with graphics, charts and tables that are appropriate only to the development community. EIR and ESIA summaries need to be prepared in local dialects and presented in a manner the LID communities can understand.

The group recognized the need for national and local governments to work more closely with LID communities —starting with involving them in the development of national legislation to guide how cultural and natural heritage is addressed in the EIR/ESIA process. Further, LID communities need to be engaged and motivated to act as partners in development planning, as well as during the scoping and implementation of EIRs and ESIAs to ensure their interests are addressed in the process. The working group also observed that projects are rarely audited by international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank Group. Audits need to be conducted regularly to ensure ESIAs are comprehensive and that management recommendations proposed by cultural heritage specialists are appropriate, practicable and are implemented. Stronger safeguards also need to be in place to ensure national and local governments and project proponents fully engage LID communities in planning, scoping and implementation of development and conservation projects. It is also imperative they are involved in managing or co-managing their cultural and natural heritage. 

ISDAf’s Planned Activities 2023-2025

A Proposed Joint Workshop: University of Ghana and University Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Cȏte d’Ivoire

ISDAf is working with professors Wazi Apoh and Timpoko Hélène Kienon-Kabore to organize a workshop with participants from Ghana and Cȏte d’Ivoire to examine the legacy impacts of British and French colonial rule on cultural heritage management in each country. Dr. Apoh is Dean at the School of Arts at the University of Ghana in Accra and Dr. Kienon-Kabore is professor at the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan. Workshop participants will also discuss how to improve engagement with LID communities in each country, and identify potential pathways for integrating biodiversity conservation with consideration of local/traditional land use practices and access to locally important cultural heritage resources. The workshop will address climate change impacts on the environment and how this impacts land use/resource use, politics and policy making, and the ESIA process, among other topics.


ISDAf is currently raising funds to undertake research in northern Uganda in 2024/2025. The research will address key issues pertaining to the management of Agoro, a heritage resource important to the Acholi community in northern Uganda. The proposed work is to develop a model of heritage management that can be generalized to Uganda and other parts of Africa. Our choice of Agoro combines previous research conducted by Ugandan archaeologists/anthropologists and a request by the Acholi community to be a collaborative partner (and not a consulted party). 

The Agoro heritage complex within the Acholi community of northern Uganda came to the attention of the Initiative for Sustainable Development in Africa (ISDAf) at a workshop held in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania August 13-16, 2022.  The subject of the Zanzibar workshop was Environmental Impact Reports/Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (EIRs/ESIAs) completed for development projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in which consultation with LID communities had failed those communities (Douglas et al. 2022).  Six of the workshop participants were cultural heritage specialists from Uganda, including a representative from the Department of Museums and Monuments (DMM) in the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA), a representative from the Uganda National Museum (UNM), a representative of Makerere University, Uganda and three private Ugandan consultants—Mr. Dismas Ongwen, our proposed co-principal investigator, represents one of these consultancies.  

At the Zanzibar workshop, Ongwen outlined the management history of the Agoro heritage complex. In 2010, the Acholi Chiefdom administration contacted the DMMs under the MTWA to help them document heritage sites in the Acholi subregion, including the Agoro heritage complex, for the promotion of conservation and tourism. Mr. Ongwen was the first Ugandan archaeologist to formally record the complex— a population center linked to processes of political centralization amongst Acholi communities in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Atkinson 2010). Ongwen’s report recommended conservation and preservation of the site, resulting in the Agoro heritage complex being listed on the national heritage list of Uganda (Ongwen et al. 2023).

The focus of our proposed research in Uganda is fourfold. We hypothesize that if the community is a fully engaged partner in the development and implementation of a management plan for the Agoro complex and in the planning and implementation of local heritage tourism, the community will: 1) protect and conserve the site, 2) use the site as an economic asset through which jobs are created in heritage tourism, 3) redevelop a common sense of place fostering social reconciliation between Acholi groups, and 4) revitalize local culture as elders pass traditions, stories, and songs about the site on to a younger generation severed from its past by growing up in internment camps. 

Our project combines the expertise of the Agoro Chiefdom in the Lamwo District of northern Uganda, Ugandan archaeologists/anthropologists, and international experts in heritage management. We selected this site for our engaged research project because the LID community has repeatedly requested to be involved in the development of site management plans as well as co-management of the site with DMM. Our Ugandan team members have worked diligently to gain the trust of the community since 2010, gathering oral histories, conducting archaeological investigations, participating in community meetings and reconstructing the history of the Agoro heritage complex. Yet, while a degree of trust has been established between the heritage professionals and the community, the latter still fear that the Ugandan government has ulterior motives which will hurt the Acholi. How we bridge this divide is the key to this project. 

Our work will enhance anthropological knowledge about the collective impacts of colonization, conflict and forced displacement on social memory and help us identify implementable methods to reunify displaced communities with their heritage.  By bringing together members of the Acholi community, national and international anthropologists/archaeologists, ESIA practitioners and Ugandan government representatives we can identify: 1) problems with how community engagement is undertaken in Uganda today; 2) processes to improve community engagement, and; 3) strategies to involve community members in the management of cultural and natural resources important to them. Our project will strive to reduce conflict between the community and the government and provide opportunities for community members to contribute to the development and implementation of a heritage management plan for the Agoro heritage complex. We hope to serve as facilitators of communication—breaching the barriers between a westernized government ideology and a rural LID community striving to gain the right to learn about and manage heritage they lost connection with as a result of forced displacement (1919-1923 and 1986-2008, see Ongwen et al. 2023). One of our objectives is to help government representatives understand the unique contribution traditional management systems can bring to site preservation as well as to community resilience. Ultimately, our work will generate a community engagement model that can be implemented on other projects in Uganda, as well as other developing nations. 

Pilot Studies – Potential Joint Biodiversity and Cultural Conservation Areas

To maximize the potential for the ISDAF to make a real difference in how development plans, resource management plans, development projects and conservation programmes are implemented in Africa, we hope to raise adequate funds to implement a pilot study in Africa where local anthropologist/social scientists and ecologists gather information about natural and cultural resources important to LID communities in a study area (to be determined). Although questions to be asked will be refined, broadly we anticipate gathering information on the size of their traditional territory e.g., (where they gather plant/forest resources, hunt, fish); how they gather, process, and use these resources; other LID communities they work with/engage with (and in what way); locations of their ancestral cultural sites and other areas that are sacred to them; what is their vision of a good future for their community now and for future generations (e.g., blend of traditional practices and access to modern resources; all traditional; all modern). With the permission of the participating LID communities, information derived from the field meetings would be used to develop confidential maps of natural and cultural resources important to each community. These maps will be generated in a Geographic Information System (GIS) so that data shared by neighbouring groups can be overlain and examined relative to national development planning initiatives.

The GIS maps and information about natural and cultural resources would be used to determine if there are shared areas that LID communities want conserved and identify natural linkages (rivers, valleys) between these proposed conservation areas.

Using GIS data gathered for the pilot studies, baseline maps would be overlain with the information provided by the heritage and natural resource experts and LID communities. This information would include current and traditional territories for each LID community, areas of natural resource procurement/traditional agriculture, ancestral sites, and sacred places. These data could provide the basis for formulating proposals of areas to be set aside as conservation easements and conservation corridors that potentially followed traditional trails, natural waterways or valleys connecting them. Collaborative meetings with government officials could pave the way for changing local and national development policies, as well as integrating the planning results into existing and future development plans and natural resource management plans. These conservation areas could be co-managed by LID community members and the government(s) and serve to better protect natural and cultural resources important to LID communities in the region, including nutritious traditional foods, medicinal plants, and which also promotes biodiversity conservation. The process and results of these studies could be audited over a period of years to determine their success – with criteria audited including: no violent protests, limited non-violent protests, higher standard of living for LID community members (e.g., reduced infant and child mortality, easy access to clean drinking water, electricity, etc.), quality paid jobs for LID community members (e.g., range and resource management jobs), opportunities to develop LID managed co-ops for sale of products both within and outside of the immediate community (e.g., fruits, vegetables, livestock, arts and crafts – such as carvings and furniture, from non-endangered trees). Lessons learned could be compiled and systems and programs improved and extended to other regions in Africa.

ISDAF is seeking partners to raise funds and initiate a pilot study in either Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania or Uganda.

In-person Meetings with Government Officials and International Financial Institutions

ISDAF will collaborate with CfAS, IBS, University of Colorado, USA, IFAN, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal, and University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana to host a workshop for ESIA practitioners, local and national government officials, representatives of the World Bank Group (WBG), African Development Bank (AfDB), European Investment Bank (EIB), other international donor institutions, African Union, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to review the outcomes of the Zanzibar and Accra workshops, and present ideas on how to improve the protection and management of cultural and natural resources that LID communities rely upon in Africa. ISDAF’s long-term objective is to work with LID communities, regional representatives of the WBG, AfDB, UNDP and national governments to create a pathway to sustainable development in Africa. 

Drafting Policy Statements

Participants of the Zanzibar workshop are crafting a policy statement for submission to local and national governments in Africa that explains the value of cultural and natural heritage that is important to LID communities. We plan on sharing guidance that has been developed in other countries for these governments to consider adopting, including: the steps required to adequately identify and document tangible heritage (e.g., archaeological sites, historic structures, burial grounds) and intangible heritage (e.g., sacred groves/trees, resource procurement areas); how to work with LID communities in the identification, documentation and management of these resources so they are not damaged or destroyed by construction, and; how to monitor and audit the identification, documentation and management of these resources over time.

In addition to developing a policy statement for governments, we will draft a policy statement for submission to the African Union (AU), African Development Bank (AfDB), European Bank for Development and Reconstruction (EBDR), the World Bank (WB) and other IFIs that support development in Africa. This statement will summarize some of the social issues encountered on projects in Africa when LID communities were not adequately consulted during the ESIA process and cultural and natural heritage resources important to them were not identified and were subsequently damaged or destroyed. This statement will also highlight the value of adequately protecting and managing cultural and natural heritage that is important to LID communities, including: providing meaningful employment; maintaining access to irreplaceable natural resources these communities rely upon for crafts, food, housing, medicines; and maintaining access to sacred places. The statement will discuss how the establishment of joint culturalnatural conservation areas where LID communities work cooperatively with professional archaeologists and ecologists can reduce deforestation and environmental degradation, contribute to CO2 sequestration and reduce forced migration.