Restitution of Cultural Treasures


By Louis-Georges Tin,
Prime Minister of the State of the African Diaspora

            95% of the cultural treasures of Africa are out of Africa. They are in the Tervuren Museum in Brussels, in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, in the British Museum in London, etc. These artifacts were stolen during Colonisation, often in a context of violence and massacre, and today, thousands of objects, and even human remains, are retained as trophies.

            We are not speaking only about the crimes of the past committed by the armies. We are talking also about contemporary offenses : the museums are complicit of all this, because they are guilty of concealment and benefit from these treasures. The taste for fine arts can never be an excuse for such attitudes at the expense and detriment to another nation. The Director General of the Unesco recalled in May 1977 : « some have lost almost all the cultural property that constitutes a vital aspect of their collective memory and a message handed down from their past. These peoples call for an understanding of their loss. »

            Great Britain still detains artifacts that belong to Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, India, etc. UK even has objects from countries, like Ethiopia, which were not British colonies. This situation is not acceptable. The intercultural dialogue cannot be based on intercultural looting and pillage.

            Restitution cannot be denied. It is a matter of justice and culture, obviously ; it is also a spiritual matter as many of these artifacts have a religious meaning in the tradition they belong to. It is also an economic matter : these treasures can be a touristic resource for the former colonies.

            When African citizens want to teach their legacy to their children, they cannot, because most of these artifacts are scattered around in Europe and the Americas. They are deprived of their memory. Europe rejects African migrants, but wants to keep African treasures.

One of the most shocking examples is about the famous Benin Bronzes. They were looted in 1897 when a punitive British military expedition moved to crush the west African kingdom, which is today part of Nigeria. Nigeria has reclaimed its legacy for decades. It seems that today, UK might consider « lending » these treasures to Nigeria. This is of course unacceptable. The robber cannot « loan » the treasures to its victim.

            As African citizens of the continent and of the Diaspora, as citizens concerned for human rights in general, culture and justice, we support the campaign for restitution led by the State of the African Diaspora, and we are asking the Prime Minister of the UK to return all the treasures to its former colonies.

            In the context of the Decade for the People of African Descent, decided by the UN, we think and we hope a dialogue is possible with the British Government. The United Kingdom may find it difficult to return all these artifacts, however, it would be even more difficult not to do it. It would give a very poor image to this country, and it would spoil its diplomacy and its integrity throughout the world.

            We have successfully organised this campaign in France, and President Macron has decided to give back to Africa what belongs to Africa. The battle is continuing now in Belgium with our allies (a resolution on this issue will be brought in the Parliament in a few weeks), but also in Germany, Portugal, etc. It is a fight for Global justice. Because there is no peace without justice.

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