University of Cambridge > > Twentieth Century Think Tank > Medical heritage as cultural property: pan-African politics and global IP precedents in the 1960s and 1970s

Medical heritage as cultural property: pan-African politics and global IP precedents in the 1960s and 1970s

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In the summer of 1969, as social movements roiled the world and decolonization continued to transform geopolitics, hundreds of government delegates and thousands of official and invited guests journeyed to Algiers for the Organization of African Unity’s First Pan-African Cultural Festival. The government representatives divided into three committees and spent much of the ten-day event hashing out their views on African culture, past and present, and articulating its role in the economic and social development of the continent. Rather than work with a narrow definition of culture, they embraced an all-encompassing view, seeing it as the ‘totality of tangible and intangible tools, works of art and science, knowledge and know-how, languages, modes of thought, patterns of behaviour and experience acquired by the people in [their] liberating effort to dominate nature and to build up an ever improving society’. The resulting recommendations came together in a 3,000 word Pan-African Cultural Manifesto, which was adopted by the assembly on the final day without a single dissenting vote. Among their top priorities were the need for member states ‘to promote and coordinate research in all spheres of traditional medicine in order to modernize them’; and ‘to protect the intellectual property of Africans by suitable legislation’. This talk places this event – including the state, pan-African, and global policies stemming from it – within the wider context of the global Cold War and decolonization. It explains how concepts relating to African culture, including people’s knowledge and know-how, came to be encoded not just within the text of model laws relating to copyrights and patents, but also in the programmes of the WHO and Unesco and the constitutions of certain IP organizations, setting global precedents in the process.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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