For decades UNESCO has promoted culture and heritage as important sources of wellbeing and social cohesion in sustainable development. Despite the multifaceted nature of wellbeing underlying this claim, poverty reduction remains the most important focus in development projects (for example through generating jobs in heritage tourism). The diverse impact of heritage on wellbeing in development can only be verified in longer-term qualitative research, and there is a paucity of research in this domain. Moreover, heritage can be used in divisive discourses. The AFRISURGE project aims to investigate the transformative potential of material heritage from Northeast Congo in the collections of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) as a resource for community- and peacebuilding in a politically fragile region, combined with the study of customary authority in local governance today. These goals are intertwined : customary authority and ritual power objects are both deemed crucial for the community’s wellbeing. Local people view the loss of ritual objects due to colonial collecting and warfare, and chiefs’ loss of touch with traditions, as reasons for the fragile state of society.
This project consists of three pillars:
1) Research-based implementation of digital restitution in Northeast DRC to reconnect Congolese communities with heritage in distant museum collections.
[Coordinator Royal Museum for Central Africa, Hein Vanhee + Partner Ghent University, coordinator and postdoc researcher Dr Vicky Van Bockhaven]
2) Political and development studies investigation of customary authorities’ resurgence in contemporary society (particularly in Haut-Uélé, DRC)
[Partner University of Antwerp, coordinator Prof. Kristof Titeca, PhD researcher Baudouin Mena Sebu]
3) Research of regional interests in museum heritage and of its potential as a resource for enhancing the communities’ wellbeing, e.g. in community and peacebuilding projects.
[Partner Université de l’Uélé, coordinator Prof. Roger Gaise, PhD candidate Félix Fufulafu]