British Museum’s Africa Programme Update

Since 2005, the British Museum’s Africa Programme has been working closely with national and independent museums across the African continent to develop training initiatives, as well as sharing skills and expertise for mutual benefit and in direct response to local needs and priorities.

Africa Programme aims to support capacity-building in museums and encourage long-term commitment to the heritage profession, with a current focus on East and West Africa. Generously funded by the Getty Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the Africa Programme is an essential part of the Museum’s international activity.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said ‘Africa is - and always has been - a key area of focus for the British Museum. A museum devoted to the history of humanity must have Africa at its core. I am delighted that thanks to the support of the Getty Foundation and the Ford Foundation we are able to work in partnership with our colleagues in East and West Africa to develop and deliver museum skills and ensure that African museums are equipped for the future’.

Ford West Africa Programme

The Museum has been working with key partners in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone since 2007 and has developed dynamic and positive relationships with colleagues in museums and heritage institutions across the region. As well as delivering in-situ knowledge-sharing workshops the Africa Programme has been instrumental in developing collaborative exhibitions (including loans to and from Africa), research projects and focused work placements at the Museum and in regional partner UK museums. In September 2012 the Museum received a further three year grant from the Ford Foundation to continue its work in West Africa. Exciting new initiatives are now being planned with African partners over this phase.

This summer the British Museum is supporting the pioneering Origins of the Afro Comb exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. Nigerian material features prominently in this exhibition and the Africa Programme has facilitated a work placement for staff from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria (NCMM) to the Fitzwilliam over the summer. Four educators and curators from Abuja, Lafia and Lagos museums will be exchanging their knowledge and skills with the team in Cambridge as they contribute to an innovative community programme. The British Museum, which is also loaning a large number of beautiful combs and sculptures to the exhibition, will share the hosting of these visitors from Nigeria during their stay.

Getty East Africa Programme (GEAP)

The British Museum received a three year grant from the Getty Foundation in 2011 to develop and deliver the Getty East Africa Programme aimed at building core museum skills in three key areas: collections care, education and exhibitions through in-situ workshops in Mombasa and Kisumu. These workshops are highly practical in structure and the content includes comprehensive training materials for use following the workshops by the participants who are then encouraged to train their colleagues.

GEAP is delivered in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). However, the initial call for applications went out to colleagues from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and these countries are represented across all three training modules stimulating dialogue and the exchange of professional skills and knowledge in the region.

An important aspect of the GEAP training is the follow-up assignments that participants complete in their home museums. These projects help to consolidate their learning and bring real benefit to their own museums. The first year of GEAP has just been completed. The immediate reaction has been positive and the subsequent application of knowledge and ideas is already proving beneficial to collections and visitors, particularly in the area of collections care. GEAP participants from Uganda Museum who received their collections care training were quick to pass on their growing knowledge and skills to other colleagues through a special training workshop in Kampala. Equipped with affordable tools and materials, staff are now rolling out sustainable new methods of collections care across the Uganda Museum. A robust system of housekeeping and pest management has been implemented that includes making and laying insect traps and recording pest activity. Solar bagging has been effective in treating infested objects. All staff are trained to clean objects and to maintain high levels of cleanliness in stores and public areas of the museum.

Another example of programme impact is at the Meru Museum in central Kenya, which has transformed the care of its collections of gourds, pottery vessels, skin garments and beadwork. The small team at Meru has worked very hard to clean and store their objects appropriately and to protect them from the threat of pests. This diligence has been specifically acknowledged by senior management at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and, as a result, further investment in staff skills has been made at Meru Museum.

Peter Koinange Mayienda at Meru Museum commented ‘When the Director of Museums, Sites and Monuments came over, he was impressed with the improvements I had made and facilitated my travel to the Cultural Heritage Store in Nairobi where I spent two weeks working with Mr Ray Balongo (another GEAP participant). While there, I learnt more about store management and documentation. I am very grateful to the GEAP for helping me to become a museum professional. I look forward to the next training’.

Basic training in object-based learning from GEAP has also inspired new interactive sessions for school students in parts of Kenya, these include storytelling, role play during tours and use of objects in observation sessions for schools. While developing their techniques, museum educators travelled to observe experienced teaching colleagues work with schools in Nairobi National Museum.

For further information

Produced twice a year, the Africa Programme newsletter features reflective reports by active participants and forms a valuable additional medium through which to share new activity, innovation and good practice among colleagues. The current newsletter and further information about the Africa Programme can be found via the following link:

For queries or images please contact Hannah Boulton in the British Museum press office 020 7323 8522