Africa’s stolen artifacts in European museums to be “loaned” to their originating countries

During a visit to Burkina Faso in November ‘17. French president, Emmanuel Macron, declared that he’d make returning artifacts to African countries a top priority. The mentioned artifacts were looted from Africa in colonial times and are now in museums, not only in France but a vast part of Europe. His declaration followed years of desperate calls from Africans for the return of said artifacts. Prior to the visit, requests from the continent were either denied or ignored.

An artifact stolen from Zimbabwe. Shows carving of the Zimbabwe bird
Soapstone bird carving known as “The Zimbabwe bird” found in museums across Europe and America

Germany and Britain find different approaches to returning African artifacts

Other European countries have since joined the conversation. In May ‘18, Germany made its first steps in rectifying a wrong that’s gone on for decades. Germany’s culture minister and the association of German museums (AGM) released a code of conduct. The code serves as a guideline on how to research where artifacts were taken from during the colonial era and how to return them. They’ve also put aside $3 million to help museums determine where objects that were taken illegitimately originated from.

Statue of Queen Nefertiti
Statue of Queen Nefertiti stolen from Egypt by Germans in 1913

Being the main perpetrators of plundering African’s cultural treasures, the British have suggested a way to remedy the situation. However, their suggestion has been met with mixed reviews. This comes as no surprise as they’ve suggested returning thousands of objects on a “long term loan”. While some are happy to accept whatever conditions come with getting the artifacts back on African soil, others are outraged by the approach. Unfortunately, this is the same approach that other European museums are taking on.

To the looters, the artifacts only serve as aesthetic and monetary objects. To African’s they carry history, culture and a sense of identity.

Benin Bronzes, artifacts stolen from Nigeria made from Bronze and ivory

    Benin Bronzes looted from Nigeria. These plaques were numbered in the thousands and none of them can be found in African museums

France moving forward with the process

In March ‘18, president Emmanuel Macron announced that he’s appointed two experts. Senegalese writer and economist, Felwine Sarr and French art historian, Bénédicte Savoy are the selected experts to make plans towards the repatriation.  They are to consult over the next few months and return with their findings in November ‘18.

The project’s success has been long debated. After years of being met with disdain and unabashed defence of the indefensible, some have lost hope in having the artifacts returned. Nonetheless, the French president’s pledge does bring anticipation for wrongs to be amended.

Author: Amanda Masuku

A passionate writer continuously looking for unique stories to tell the world. Given all the diversity in the world and this new age where information is easily accessible, a good story is always around the corner. A lot of those stories often go untold or told from a negative perspective. As a writer I look not only to educate and inform but also to build connections through intricate stories that make you feel connected to the subjects.

Amanda Masuku

A passionate writer continuously looking for unique stories to tell the world. Given all the diversity in the world and this new age where information is easily accessible, a good story is always around the corner. A lot of those stories often go untold or told from a negative perspective. As a writer I look not only to educate and inform but also to build connections through intricate stories that make you feel connected to the subjects.