ICON, Fall 2005
For centuries if not millennia, peoples around the globe have developed and maintained cultural traditions that have not only sustained their practitioners but in more recent years have garnered the admiration of those visiting from the outside. According to the World Tourism Organization, an agency of the United Nations, cultural tourism is the number one industry in many countries and the fastest-growing economic sector in terms of foreign exchange earnings and job creation. Tourism stimulates significant investment in infrastructure, which in large part helps to improve the living conditions of local people. Yet, left unchecked, increased exposure to the outside world can have a detrimental effect, eroding traditional lifeways and exacting an extraordinary toll on the very sites so many have come to see. This issue, we journey to the Mali's Bandiagara Escarpment (see page 40), where extraordinary geography and human genius have conspired to create one of the world's great cultural landscapes. Until the mid-twentieth century, the Dogon cliff dwellers who currently inhabit the escarpment had experienced very little contact with the outside world. In recent decades, however, the modern world has arrived in Dogon Country, bringing with it the benefits of higher education, improved healthcare, and enhanced agricultural production.
Unfortunately, some of these "benefits" have come complete with infrastructure ill suited to this extraordinary, yet fragile landscape. While WMF's primary focus has been on carrying out actual restoration projects, more and more sites in our portfolio require assistance in the form of advocacy, development planning, and tourism management so that disaster is averted before it has struck. Through the creation of well-reasoned management plans, drafted with the participation of the stakeholders involved, WM F has been able to assist many sites in charting a course that ensures the protection of the cultural elements we hold most dear. Inheritors of a legacy that stretches back millennia, the Dogon are indeed ata crossroads, challenged to choose a path that will ease an often difficult life, while preserving the very essence of what makes them unique. With WMF's assistance they just might succeed.