IN THE past two decades museums in Zambia did not receive the needed attention, a scenario that put the nation at a higher risk of losing its moveable heritage or collections.
Museums are part of the tourism mix of any country as they provide an opportunity to see not only the natural resources of a particular region, but also the uniqueness of the people and how they have interacted with each other and their environment.
They also play an important role in telling the story of evolution of mankind, with members of the public going there to learn and gather information and knowledge about themselves.
The early leaders recognised the importance of preserving the country’s heritage.
It is for this reason they created the National Museums Board of Zambia as early as 1966 through an act of Parliament to play the principal role of preserving the nation’s history and movable natural and cultural heritage, which are vital in the maintenance of the country’s identity and pride.
The board is tasked to develop and manage museums in the country on a sustainable basis.
The country has four national museums; the Copperbelt Museum in Ndola, Livingstone Museum in Livingstone, Lusaka National Museum, and Moto Moto Museum in Mbala district.
In addition, there are two fully-fledged community museums called Nayuma Museum in Limulunga, Mongu, and Choma Museum and Crafts Centre in Choma.
There are also two community museum projects that are yet to be completed, which are Nsingo Hall Community Museum in Feni, Chipata, and Mwinilunga in the North-Western Province.
National Museums Board executive secretary Flexon Mizinga says these museums are supposed to conduct research in order to generate new knowledge, document both tangible and intangible heritage for research, enjoyment and posterity and mount exhibitions to disseminate information.
With the buoyant economy in the First Republic and government at the centre of business in the Second Republic, funding to the museums was adequate, allowing them to carry out their functions.
The healthy funding from government enabled museums to undertake research, document, manage collections, design user-friendly public programmes and mount exhibitions.
Most of these now constitute the permanent exhibitions in the four national museums.
“However, the change of government in 1991 led to a change in the economic and priority areas. The new government’s focus was on fostering a conducive liberal environment that enabled the private sector to thrive and concentrating on building capacity of economically oriented institutions,” Mr Mizinga says.
“As a result, organisations like museums that are social oriented institutions were thrown in a quagmire in terms of receiving adequate funding from government. This resulted in the severe cutting of funding to museums.
“The impact of the underfunding for the past 20 years was the inability of the museums to recruit qualified staff, inability to sponsor staff for further studies, inability to acquire motor vehicles for research and public programmes, inability to procure machines and equipment used in the preservation of the collections and objects and inability of the board to rehabilitate infrastructure that house the nation’s moveable heritage.”
This scenario has put the nation at a higher risk of losing its moveable heritage or collections.
As a result, the museums were unable to respond to the needs of the people and to be abreast of global trends in museum developments.
The most hit sector of the museums was the education unit that develops educational programmes and products under public programmes and outreach.
But Mr Mizinga says following the change of government in 2011, government has revived its quest to arrest the deteriorating standards in collections management in the museums by increasing its operational funding.
Though sufficient to operate at a break-even point, the funds are still insufficient to cater for the development of interactive museums public programmes.
The effort made to revive the importance of museums to national development in the management and preservation of the nation’s heritage has been noticed both by the international community and institutions involved with museums. These institutions include International Council of Museums (ICOM), Committee on Education and Cultural Action (CECA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and African Council of Museums (AFRICOM).
Mr Mizinga says the positive strides made in reviving the importance of tourism in national development led to the first visit to Zambia of the ICOM president, Hans-Martin Hinz, during the commemoration of the International Museums Day in May last year.
The event was also attended by the CECA chairperson, Emma Nardi, ICOM members from Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
This successful hosting of the ICOM president as well as the CECA chairperson led to the appointment of Zambia as the first African CECA regional office, the first ever on the continent.
“This was not only an honour to the museums in Zambia, but also the nation and its people at large, including corporate houses. It was for this reason that Zambia was nominated to host the 2015 CECA-SADC conference to be held in Lusaka and Siavonga from 18 to 21 May [today to Thursday], 2015.
“The main objective of the conference is to encourage African membership and participation in CECA and ICOM programmes…The CECA-SADC conference is a specially designed service to enhance or align Africa in general and Zambian museums in particular with Museum Education Best practices and promoted by ICOM-CECA,” he says.
The ICOM-CECA Museum Education Best Practices are global trends obtaining in all developed countries in the quest of providing the best information to the public from a nation’s heritage that stimulate economic, social, technological and political progressive concepts that develop nations.
Therefore, the conference is a convergence of experts world over ready to share their professional notes and expertise on how African museums in general can modernise their education systems to be become a catalyst for social change and development.
BY KELVIN KACHINGWE
SOURCE: Zambia Daily Mail
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