- The government of Guinea-Bissau has decided to launch Bolama as a world heritage site to the UN's culture agency UNESCO. Bolama, which was the first capital of the colonial administration of Portuguese Guinea, is located close to the famous Bijagos Islands, already a biosphere reserve.
According to government sources in Guinea-Bissau, the project to have Bolama included in UNESCO's prestigious World Heritage list will be launched when the Director-General of that UN agency, Koichiro Matsuura, returns to the country in April. A larger process, mostly referring to Guinea-Bissau's ability to manage the site, will than decide whether Bolama can be put on the list.
Mr Matsuura only was in Guinea-Bissau in January this year and held talks with Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior over the status of Bolama and the Bijagos biosphere reserve. The two on 24 January inaugurated an exposition on Guinea-Bissau's natural and cultural heritage in Bissau, the current capital.
The Bissau-Guinean government during that visit was given much hope for its ambitions to achieve its first-ever site on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Mr Matsuura praised the authorities for their global "leadership" in establishing biosphere reserves, "particularly within Portuguese speaking Africa."
The situation of Bolama and Bijagos was also mentioned by the UNESCO leader, who praised Bissau-Guinean plans for the extension of the Bijagos biosphere reserve to also include Bolama. While the Bijagos archipelago is mostly protected for its natural uniqueness and its importance to bird-life, nearby Bolama is mainly a cultural site. Mr Matsuura applauded the authorities for the cooperation between cultural and natural conservation agencies.
The town of Bolama is located on the island with the same name, located between the Bijagos archipelago and the mainland, some 30 kilometres south of Bissau. Bolama was the capital of Portuguese Guinea during the height of colonialism and luxurious colonial mansions still testify of the trade and services centred here.
The roots of Portuguese rule in Guinea-Bissau are from 1588, when the Captaincy of Cacheu was founded, but from 1614 to 1879, Portuguese Guinea was ruled as a province of the Cape Verde islands. From 1879, however, a separate colony was founded, with Bolama as the capital. The administrative capital was only moved from Bolama to Bissau in 1941.
Being included on the prestigious World Heritage list can be of great importance to locations that have ambitions within the tourism sector. In Guinea-Bissau, tourism still is at its embryonic stage due to recent political violence and chaos. Bolama, Bissau, the many mangrove islands of the Bijagos archipelago and the country's many unspoilt beaches however have a significant tourism potential.
Although Guinea-Bissau currently has no sites on UNESCO's World Heritage list, the UN agency already is widely engaged in the country. UNESCO sponsors more than ten projects in Bissau, mostly within the sectors of education and culture. According to Prime Minister Gomes, the UN agency was making an important contribution to the reconstruction of Guinea-Bissau.
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