Zambia Minister of Tourism, Rodney Sikumba.

LUSAKA – Zambia has halted plans to have one of its unique plains listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in order to allow for more consultations, a government official said Thursday.

The government has been spearheading a campaign dubbed “From Barotse to the World” aimed at bringing international recognition to the unique landscape, culture and traditions of the Barotse Plains situated in the western part of the country. But concerns have arisen from the indigenous people who feel the land will be disposed of from them and sold. 

Minister of Tourism Rodney Sikumba said the campaign, which had intensified in the last two years, has been halted in order to allow for further consultations among stakeholders. “Government will not proceed to submit the nomination of the Barotse Plains as a UNESCO Heritage Site next year until all concerns are addressed,” he said in a release.

The government, he said, wanted all stakeholders who felt left out in the consultations to use the period to engage with the local traditional leadership and the state agency, National Heritage Conservation Commission, to discuss their fears and concerns. He, however, said it was the government’s belief that the listing of the plains as a heritage site will be essential to attract tourists from all over the world, a situation that would benefit the local people. 

He further clarified that the decision to have the plains listed as a world heritage site has nothing to do with the sale of the land or the dispossession of the people. According to him, countries around the world compete to have their unique places, sites, buildings, or cultures listed as world heritage for humanity in order to ensure that such places enjoy the protection and preservation by the global community through enhanced heritage and tourism status. 

Zambia became a party to the World Heritage Convention in 1984 and had Victoria Falls declared a World Heritage site in 1989. The Makishi masquerade and Gule Wamkulu (traditional ritual dance) also enjoy the World Heritage status under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to the release. – Xinhua News