African artefacts are increasingly being returned to African governments and, with this, the debate on the repatriation of African artefacts from the West is evolving. Our latest issue, A New Chapter for African Artefacts?, looks at the African ideas, politics and stakeholders shaping this debate.
Though they are crucial to the movement, advocating for the restitution of stolen African artefacts cannot be left to sympathetic actors of the West, Chika Okeke-Agulu argues. He says, ‘It is no surprise that most of the important scholarly publication on royal Benin art have been by researchers overseas who have better access to museums and collections that benefitted, directly or indirectly, from colonial-era looting.’
African artefacts looted, stolen, and forcefully taken belong to the African communities they were taken from in the Africa continent, Victor Ehikhamenor argues. He says, ‘In discussing restitution, we must also let the world know that creativity on the continent has always been a continuum, there was no break.’
Six years after a group of Cambridge students first demanded that the Benin Bronze cockerel, ‘Okukor’, be returned to the Benin Kingdom, the university returned the cockerel. For some of those activists, including this author, the return means victory but also worry.
Money-spraying is not the problem and should be seen not as the lack of national pride but as a display of cultural pride: a cherished tradition that shows deep respect and appreciation for the power of music and dance.
The struggle for the restitution of Africa’s artefacts from Western museums reflects the necessary undoing of imperial domination. It is not merely political but also existential—it is a fight for the spirit of Africa.
Though both COP26 and COP27 have seen various initiatives—from travel funds to mentorship networks to enhance women’s participation in climate action—overall progress remains inconsistent and slow as richer countries tend to fall short of their financial promises.
In 1972, pan-Africanist and Marxist thinker from Guyana, Walter Rodney, warned of ‘Wildlife Republics’, calling attention to wildlife conservation in Africa as a new form of imperialist and capitalist exploitation. Today, conservation is still a pretext to dispossess local communities for imperialist expansion and capitalist development.