Sindou Dosso

Preparing for the Inclusion of a New Site in the List of World Heritage, the Example of the Historic Town of Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire: Implication of Civil Activists and Hopes
Sindou Dosso (“Friends for Heritage”, Curator/Consulting, Côte d’Ivoire)


Since 2009, Côte d’Ivoire has submitted to the world Heritage Centre for assessment, its first cultural property called “Historic town of Grand-Bassam” which is a colonial-style townscape, ending with a traditional village on the East side of the site.

During the 33rd session of the world heritage committee held in Seville (Spain) in 2009, the Ivorian property was put in “reference” with the main requirement to include the traditional village (with its material and intangible culture) in the study and in the protected area. The dossier has been reviewed by the state party, taking into account the recommendation of the committee, and it will be presented again this year.

Referring to this example, we will attempt to demonstrate and emphasize the importance and the complementary essential role (current and future) of local communities and other stakeholders in the protection, the preservation and the enhancement of our common heritage, alongside the institutional actors.


Factor of cultural diversity and of reconciliation between peoples, heritage has become a challenge nowadays in the world. Hits concerted management, in a burst of both national and international solidarity is highly recommended to all nations of the world by UNESCO.

Conscious of this challenge, Côte d’Ivoire, as United Nations member country, has ratified the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural World Heritage, in January 9, 1981.

To date, the country has three (03) natural sites inscribed on World Heritage List of UNESCO, which are:

— The natural reserve of Mount Nimba (1982)
— The National Park of Taï(1982)
— The National Park of Comoé (1983)

Between these three sites, the National Park of Comoé and the Natural Reserve of Mount Nimba currently appear on the list of «natural world heritage at risk». In this context, Administrative, technical and material resources are deployed by the State Party in order to correct dysfunctions and finally bring back these two sites on the active list of World Heritage.

Up to know, no cultural property from Côte d’Ivoire is on the list of World Heritage. In order to address this lack, the Ministry of Culture has organized several seminars on «national policies of methodical inventory and preservation of cultural heritage”, involving not only national institutions in charge of heritage, but also, and especially members of civil society and NGO of defense of heritage, among which the NGO «Friends for Heritage» based in the city of Grand-Bassam, and «the Tapa Foundation for Arts and Culture » based in Abidjan.

By this concerted action of the State party, the local authorities and the NGOs, the Ministry has drawn up a cultural Tentative list of properties able to be studied and be proposed on the World Heritage List.

Among the five (05) Properties including this indicative list, the choice of all the stakeholders was unanimously carried on a cultural heritage, named «the historic town of Grand-Bassam,» which is a landscape of urban type, to propose its inclusion on the list of the World Heritage in 2008.

Referring to this example, we will attempt to present the property, to demonstrate and emphasize the importance and the complementary involvement (current and future) of local communities and other stakeholders in the protection, the preservation and the enhancement of our common heritage, alongside the institutional actors, and to express the expectations of the state party in the framework of this international assessment.


The historic town of Grand-Bassam is located in Côte d’Ivoire, a West Africa country. Côte d’Ivoire is limited in the North by the Republics of Burkina Faso and Mali, in the South by the Atlantic Ocean, in the East by the Republic of Ghana and in the west by the Republics of Guinea and Liberia.
The town of Grand-Bassam is in the south-eastern region of Côte d’Ivoire, at the coastline bordering the country.

In the commune of Grand-Bassam, the historic town is located in the southerner part; it consists of a narrow coastal strip between the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoon Ouladine. The property itself is bordered in the north by Imperial Quarter, in the South by the Atlantic Ocean, in the west by the cemetery and in the east by the mouth made by the river Comoé, the lagoon and the sea.

The historic town has two very distinct architecture entities: the European quarter and the traditional village N’zima. The European area is characterized by buildings of monumental style, giving the city an appearance of old city of European architecture transplanted in an African landscape.

As for the traditional village, it is characterized by three types of constructions: the colonial influence of habitat, habitat with modern use of sustainable materials and traditional habitat with two sub categories: buildings with mixed materials and construction in local materials mainly vegetable.

The historic town, with its lighthouse linked site, is traditionally divided into four areas defined by their functional characteristics, urban and architectural:
Zone 1: the residential area
Zone 2: the administrative area
Zone 3: the commercial area
Zone 4: the traditional village N’zima

I.1 Criterions of selection

The historic town of Grand-Bassam was proposed for inclusion on the World Heritage List following criterions iii and iv.

criteria III
«Bringing a unique or at least exceptional on a tradition or a living or extinct civilisation.»

The historic town of Grand-Bassam is the witness of two civilizations, one Western and the other African. Grand Bassam is the first site that will give birth to the modern political, economic, social and cultural Côte d’Ivoire. Besides its function as the first colonial capital, Grand Bassam is a leading economic center that will attract all the great companies of the time, specifically those from France and Great British. People arriving in the wake of the colonization, attracted by the prosperity of the town, were of various origins. The were from the colony of Côte d’Ivoire, they
also consisted of nationals of the sub-region of equatorial Africa and the middle Asia (…).

criteria IV
«Offer an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant period or periods of human history»

The historic town of Grand-Bassam is a remarkable example of a landscape architectural work, in a marshy environment. This barrier beach seemed nearly impossible to develop because of its limited geographical configuration in an area of water between the lagoon Ouladine, the Comoé river and the Atlantic Ocean. In fact,
its location on a sedimentary basin formed of Tertiary sands and its geo pedological appearance constituted a priori an obstacle to the emergence of a city.

The historic town has been developed between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. To build it, we had to fill wetlands in order to construct the port equipments, the commercial and the administrative equipments and storage intended to receive both export products from the colony and the manufactured ones from the metropolis. (…).

I.2 Declaration of authenticity

In the historic city, the essential of the works of construction of the buildings and the space planning, took place between 1890 and 1930 in the framework of the economy trading imposed by the colonial system. Despite the loss of its commercial and political vocation, the historical town of Grand-Bassam has not seen any major changing as for the content of its main attributes.

In terms of form and design, the historic town has retained much of its colonial architectural characters, as well as the urban original orthogonal plan which presided to the street layout since colonial times. Regarding the buildings, apart from some localized degradation in the commercial area, the entire building retains its original appearance. The long lines of roadside trees and vegetation plots also date from the colonial period and reflect a landscape treatment to respond to local climatic constraints.

The design of the village N’zima has not changed dramatically since the parceling of 1908. The narrow lanes of the non lotting part of the village remained in the original state and the coefficient of land used for its buildings is very high reflecting the mode of spatial occupation of the traditional habitat.

I.3 Declaration of integrity

The historic town has preserved globally its general configuration: The African village in the East part and the European district in the western coastal string continue currently to define the limits of the city.

The landscape itself and its relationship to the natural geography of the lagoon and the sea coast have remained the same since the urban site has not undergone any significant densification of its frame.
On the landscape plan, the City has maintained its historical integrity because of the maintenance of most lines of trees and vegetation in the private portions of the plots. The public space is characterized by its rows of coconut trees and grassy sidewalks, despite faulty maintenance for some of them, remains the dominant feature of the Historic City.

The City has a good integrity for the various attributes that justify the cultural significance of the site are still present within the area proposed for inclusion.

I.4 Statement of Outstanding Universal Value

Capital of the French residence in 1878 and therefore first capital of the Coast from 1893 to 1899, Grand-Bassam has long been an important economic and commercial pole. This dual function gave rise to the creation of a rich architectural heritage one hand, and drew people from the colony, from the metropolis of other African countries and from the middle orient, on the other hand, making Grand Bassam a cosmopolitan city and therefore, a focus of cultural diversity.

Despite this mixing of peoples of different cultures, local cultureN’zima was essentially maintained. The colonial and traditional style of architecture has transcended time and the site has not changed in its original natural and geographical boundaries. To better preserve this set, the State of Côte d’Ivoire has taken multifarious initiatives, in particular, the creation of appropriate services to conservation, the disclosure of laws regulation tests and the establishment of management organs.


II.1 the working method

To carry out the scientific and technical work in order to inscribed the site on the World Heritage List in 2009, the cell called «Mission to Support the conduct of Municipal Operations (MACOM)» of the National Bureau of Technical Study and Development (BNETD) in Côte d’Ivoire, has been designated by the Ministry for culture and the municipality of Grand-Bassam, as “master of work” of the study.

Recognizing the importance, and to demonstrate its involvement in the implementation of the project as one of the civil leading activist, the Mayor of the town of Grand-Bassam signed an order, authorizing the municipal starting of the diagnostic studies in order to inscribe the historic town of Grand-Bassam on the World Heritage List.

Two other ministerial decrees were signed, this time by the Minister of Culture, owner of the project:

— One concerning the establishment, responsibilities, organization and operation of the Management Committee for the project of inclusion of the historic town of Grand-Bassam on the World Heritage List. This committee is a consortium comprising all national institutions involved in the project.
— the other appointing the members of the operating team of the project of the proposition of inclusion the Historic town of Grand-Bassam on the World Heritage List, mentioning the professional skills of each other.

II.2 actors and stakeholders in the study: the involvement of civil society

After these steps, the teams were formed and a distribution of tasks to perform was defined in terms of specialties and skills. A first meeting of explanation and education was held in the city concerned, to make understand the challenge of the project and then solicit the support of all the potential actors. This step resulted in an exemplary mobilization of all partners, institutional stakeholders, local communities and NGOs.

A multidisciplinary team of curators, advisors of cultural action, architects, historians, engineers, cartographers, lawyers, staff of the UNESCO National Commission, traditional leaders, NGO representatives and other civil activists began the task. An outline of work has been defined and sequential meetings were instituted.

The work of the operational team consisted of:

— Awareness of the stakeholders and taking into account the editorial requirements of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, in the institutional framework of preparing the inclusion of an Cultural Property on the World Heritage List;
— The establishment of five teams in regard of the interest centre of the project;
— The adoption of terms of reference;
— The adoption of the budget of the project;
— The adoption of a timetable of the activities of researches in situ and the oral sources;

II.3 means implemented

— The financial resources

The World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, the UNESCO Regional Office in Accra and the UNDP have helped funding the project.
It should be noted that the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire represented by the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Grand-Bassam, has supported the project by 80% of the budget available for this project.

— Human resources

The presence of the head of UNESCO Regional Office in Accra and a representative of UNDP in the preparatory meetings, the presence of three missions sponsored by the Heritage Centre and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), have consisting phases of valuable assistance and much appreciated, in the conduct of the project.

The Ivorian committee of ICOMOS (an NGO that defends Heritage) attended the conduct of the project from the beginning to the end.

To start the project, all regulations, legislation and administrative documents, scientific and technology related to the protection of cultural and natural heritage of Côte d’Ivoire were identified and reviewed by the experts.

II.4 – obtained Results

Each team had an obligation of result:

— The management plan for the site has been developed;
— The diagnostic study of buildings and urban setting was conducted;
— The flow of tourists in the city was identified and analyzed;
— Research funding was initiated;
— Documentary research on historical, sociological, scientific and technical data, on statutory, legislative concerning the Historic town of Grand-Bassam, were conducted.

The results of all these works have been the subject of public restitution in Grand-Bassam in the presence of NGOs, so that the peoples concerned recognize themselves in the project and appropriate it. At the end of this process, two separated documents were drafted:

— One called «Management Plan», comprising all of the potential management activities or those in progress on the one hand, and the actions needed to conduct these activities on the other hand, the whole arranged according to the standards of the World Heritage Centre;

— The other called” proposal of inclusion of the Historic town of Grand-Bassam in the list of the world heritage” respecting the format and the content decreed by the centre of the world heritage.

For this first attempt, the final submission of nomination of the historic town of Grand-Bassam has reached the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO on January.28, 2008.

II.5 difficulties

The completion of the backup plan and enhancement (CBPE) of significant buildings and some aspects of the urban tissue, is an operation that requires large financial resources, because of the advanced state of degradation of some buildings worthy of interest, and the delicacy of the work of restoration (you must perform the identical work, respecting the use of the original material as possible).

In the favor of the national seminar to validate diagnostic work and the management plan held in Grand-Bassam from 03 to 05 December 2007, a global feasibility study was carried out and estimated costs of work to be made were defined. But the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire, given the socio-political crisis that he lived, has not had objectively necessary resources to immediately funding these requests.

Also, the time to sit up the study and to work was really insufficient because in total, only six months were utilized to conduct the entire operation, with moments of respite due to lack of financial resources. And according to the challenge, the operational cell in charge to conduct the project had several sleepless nights in order to able to respect the deadlines given by UNESCO.

II.6 The decision of the World Heritage Committee at the end of the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee

The dossier of Côte d’Ivoire has been introduced under the number 1322 by UNESCO for evaluation during the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee (22-30 June 2009 Seville).

It was admissible under criterions iii and iv, and the property was recognized as having outstanding universal value, but it has been put in “reference” in view of certain shortcomings, particularly related to the delimitation of the protected area and the extension of the buffer zone. In addition to these shortcomings, one of the main recommendations of the World Heritage Committee has focused on the inclusion of the traditional village of the people «n’zima» with its tangible and intangible cultural attributes, in the strict protection zone.

The recommendations contained in a document have been sent to the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire:

Decision: 33 COM 8B.11

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined documents WHC-09/33.COM/INF.8B1 and WHC-09/33.COM/8B,
2. Returns the nomination of the Historic City of Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, to the State Party, to enable it to:

a) include the village N’zima in whole or in part, in the proposed property to give it its full value;
b) extend the buffer zone in order to make a single zone;
c) complete the analysis by considering wider colonial urban planning first, and generally on the African continent, for comparable periods;
d) confirm and complete the necessary legal measures, and the instances of the preservation of the property, including the commission of delivery of a building permit, and the competences granted to the “Maison du Patrimoine”;
e) strengthen the practical and operational dimension of the plan of conservation and management by supplementing a detailed inventory of work to be done and a schedule of priority actions to ensure the conservation of the property;
f) confirm the establishment of the operational Agency and ensure Although its material and human resources;
g) define the operational indicators (in addition to current monitoring indicator) corresponding to specific follow-up actions, periodicals and quantified on the basis of international standards in this matter, and ensure the availability of trained staff to implement those actions.


III.1 The reaction of the State Party

Following the decision of the World Heritage Committee, the State Party through the Ministry for Culture, made the inclusion of the Historic town of Grand-Bassam, a national priority. In this regard, a new operational team has been established by the will of the Minister. This team, composed primarily of experts who conducted the initial work was reinforced by resource persons able to intervene effectively in the fields of the recommendations made

By the committee, this is why a firm of Architects and Tourism professionals have been co-opted. Funds have been mobilized to cope with heavy expenses that require the works and the classification procedure of a property on the world heritage list.

Participation of civil society has been extended to all social levels and representatives of religions, living in the city of Grand-Bassam. The site management entities involving civil society, such as the Committee for issuing building permits, the local management committee and the executive secretariat have all been officially installed by the Minister in charge of Culture.

III.2 expected results

During several months of work, the new operational team has attempted to decrypt the recommendations and finding the most appropriate responses to each of them, as required by the World Heritage Committee.
The end result of this study is recorded in three separated documents, namely:
— The management plan (is operational)
— Nomination dossier (the property is described, its values stated and its limits set out);
— The analytical Summary (includes the selection criteria, statements of authenticity, integrity and foundation of the management plan).

This whole dossier has been introduced by January 2012 by the well of the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire, at the World Heritage Centre for further evaluation during the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee to be held June 24 to July 6, 2012 in St. Petersburg in Russia.

III.3 expectations of the State Party

The state party of Côte d’Ivoire, helped by some development partners, has mobilized both financial and material resources and had called national experts, local communities, NGOs for defense of Heritage and certain competences at international level, to prepare, edit and finalize the nomination dossier of the historic town of Grand-Bassam on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

The experience of the nomination of the historic town of Grand-Bassam was enriching, showing us that the policy of safeguarding and enhancement of heritage can not only be a matter for professionals in the field of conservation. Civil society, represented by local populations, by voluntary service of some sponsors and by NGOs, has a place of choice in the national policy of heritage conservation, because this society is the first forces in the monitoring, the intervention and the denunciation when heritage is in danger, whether due to human action or that of nature.

In Grand-Bassam, there has been an exceptional mobilization of all the social strata, local elected officials, the deconcentrated and decentralized state’s services, development partners, especially NGOs for heritage protection, for the cause of this project, which all wish to see the realization and be a living witness of its implementation, such are the expectations of the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire at the end of the 36th World Heritage Committee to be held June 24 to July 6, 2012, here in St.Petersburg.

Подготовка к включению нового объекта в список всемирного наследия: случай исторического города Гренд-Бассам в Береге Слоновой Кости: роль гражданских активистов и надежды
Синду Доссо («Друзья Наследия», руководитель, Берег Слоновой Кости)

В 2009 году Берег Слоновой Кости подал заявку в Центр Всемирного наследия на проведение оценки его главного культурного достояния называемого «Историческим городом» Гранд-Бассам. Это городской ландшафт в колониальном стиле, венчаемый традиционной деревней в восточной части.

Во время 33-й сессии Комитета Всемирного Наследия, проходившей в Севильи (Испания) в 2009 году, достояние Берега Слоновой Кости было упомянуто в контексте главного требования включить традиционную деревню (с ее материальной и духовной культурой) в список объектов изучения и охраны.

Впоследствии комплект документов был доработан с учетом рекомендаций Комитета и в 2012 году будет представлен повторно.

Ссылаясь на данный пример, мы хотим попытаться показать важность и существенную роль местных сообществ и других заинтересованных лиц в защите, сохранении и расширении всемирного наследия наравне с институциональными субъектами сейчас и в будущем.