Stone Town, Zanzibar Development threatening World Heritage Status?
A proposed multimillion-dollar, five-star hotel development in Stone Town, Zanzibar, has led to questions about whether the island will be able to retain its Unesco World Heritage Site status. The controversy centres on a building, built in 1859 by a wealthy Arab resident, Mambo Msiige. Over the years it has been occupied by missionaries and colonial administrators. Famous explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, is said to have stayed there before it became a hospital. It is currently used by the government to house public records and is in a dilapidated state.
The other area proposed for the hotel is the old yacht club next door, which has long been out of use. Also included in the proposed development site is an area of public open ground that, it is understood, will be developed into a park area and gardens. Concerns for Zanzibar’s World Heritage Site status revolve around the destruction of the building. However, Issa Makarani, Director General for the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority, says these fears are misplaced. “The development of the building will not change its original structure.”
The architecture, narrow alleyways, mosques, churches, museums and old palaces are major attractions for tourists taking a break from the beach to walk around the picturesque town. A number of old buildings have recently benefited from private-sector renovation and conversion into boutique hotels and restaurants as a result of the increasing interest in Stone Town.
A team of experts from Unesco have been sent to inspect several investment projects in Zanzibar to establish whether they conform to regulations regarding the management of the World Heritage Site. “Provided the construction, renovation and landscaping are all done within the regulations and with appropriate design, which enhances the waterfront of Stone Town and blends in well with the other historic buildings in the area, we would think there should be no problem regarding heritage. On the contrary, the development will add value to Stone Town,” says Julia Bishop, Director for Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors.
Thanks to Clarissa Hughes for this update.