Nyungwe National Park is set to be Rwanda’s first natural property to be nominated to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List. The nomination, approved at a UNESCO-supported consultation in June in Huye, is expected by next year. It is about time the park was on the list, which honours the world’s cultural and natural heritage of “outstanding universal value”. As something of a global cultural artefact, it will be recalled the interest Nyungwe drew in 2006 when a trio of explorers guided by Global Positioning System declared Rukarara River, which originates in the park’s forests, among (if not the remotest) sources of the Nile. But it is the park’s diversity of species that best recommend it. It’s unique range of habitats support reptiles, mammals, rare birds and primates, including the chimpanzee and about 13 species of primates. Also touted are around 200 species of trees and flowers of extreme beauty such as wild begonias and 100 other unique species of orchids only found in the park. And that’s just the gist of Nyungwe’s distinctive attributes. But that it has taken so long to accord the park UNESCO World Heritage Site status speaks of a larger continental story. It speaks of how Africa remains under-represented on the Heritage List. Of the more than 1,100 sites on the list, nearly half are in Europe and about a quarter in Asia and the Pacific. Africa is home to just 139 World Heritage Sites, constituting a meagre 12 per cent of the world total. Of these, 98 properties are in Sub-Saharan Africa, representing 9 per cent of the total. The under-representation was also apparent last week during the Extended 44th World Heritage Committee session in Fuzhou, China. Of the 33 applications for World Heritage Site status voted on by a panel of delegates at the session, only two candidates were from Africa—one each from Gabon and the Ivory Coast. Compare with the 15 sites voted to the heritage status for European countries. The Economist explains that one of the reasons for Africa’s under-representation is that local experts, even when trained, are “not given enough responsibility by UNESCO or their governments” to push submissions for their countries’ sites. Another barrier to getting African heritage on the list is cost. UNESCO grants to help countries with the burden of paperwork are capped at $30,000. This means countries that can afford to nominate more frequently get more sites on the list. In the East African Community, Tanzania and Kenya tie with only seven sites each on the World Heritage List. Uganda has three. Other EAC countries are still some way to go, though their sites for likely nomination are on UNESCO Tentative Lists. As the cradle of mankind and its extensive contribution to global heritage, Africa deserves a better showing on the World Heritage List. UNESCO however acknowledges this in its progress report for Africa in which it notes stepped up efforts to build adequate capacity to ensure the continent’s heritage is better represented. Africa however has bigger challenges. The report also notes how more than 20 properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger are found in the continent. These constitute a significant 41.5 per cent of all properties under serious threat. Many of these properties are located in conflict and post-conflict areas, which the report says creates very specific challenges for conservation and protection. Other threats range from development pressures to unsustainable use of natural resources, rapid urbanization and population growth, and climate change. These challenges can be addressed, however. UNESCO suggests envisioning concrete solutions in ways that enhance the safeguarding of the universal value of the properties while also meeting pressing development needs. In our neighbourhood, the Democratic Republic of Congo has four on the danger list, mainly related to the ongoing conflict in the east of the country. Kenya has one on the list (Lake Turkana National Parks) and Uganda one (The Tombs of the Baganda Kings in Kasubi).