Africa sees some artifacts returning home, but wants more than that

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Apollo John Rwampro talks about the eight-legged stool, symbolizing the authority of his ancient kingdom in Uganda, now seen through a glass barrier at a museum thousands of miles away in Britain goes.

The wooden stool is on permanent display at the University of Oxford, one of at least 279 items taken from the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom during the colonial era. Oxford has resisted efforts to bring the stool back, saying it was donated by a royal from a broken kingdom.

“It’s quite disappointing,” said Ravampro, a deputy prime minister and tourism minister for the state. “It is best for them to swallow their pride, as the French and Germans have done, and return the artifacts.”

After long resistance from the authorities in Europe, African countries’ efforts at restoration are now flourishing with the return of valuable pieces that were once considered unrecoverable.

Recently, Nigeria and Germany signed an agreement for the return of hundreds of artifacts known as the Benin Bronze, The deal follows French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign more than 26 pieces, known as Abomi treasures.Priceless artifacts from the Dahomey Empire of the 19th century in present-day Benin.

African authorities want a lot from the exquisite to the terrifying. Some are concerned that the British government is particularly procrastinating, not making any commitments on restoration.

In Uganda, which gained independence from Britain in 1962, antiquities officials are preparing for a November trip to the UK, where they will negotiate with the University of Cambridge for an undisclosed number of artifacts there. Cambridge, which recently gave back an elaborate bronze cockerel to Nigeriaappears to be forthcoming, said Rose Mwanza Nakale, Ugandan commissioner for museums and monuments.

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It is “harder to penetrate” than the British Museum in London, Nakale said. “We can start with people who are willing to cooperate. Fighting these people is not useful. ,

The British Museum, which holds an extensive collection from across Africa, is protected by a 1963 law that forbids trustees from repatriating objects except in certain circumstances, including an item deemed unsuitable or worthless. Some African officials believe the stand is becoming increasingly vulnerable as other institutions in Europe respond more positively.

Nigeria is applying pressure to amend laws in the UK and elsewhere to allow the repatriation of the disputed collection, said Abba Isa Tijani, director general of Nigeria’s National Museums and Monuments Commission. But he expressed concern that while some countries are beginning to open up, such efforts in Britain “have not started yet.”

Many desirable artifacts from Africa cannot even be traced, leading an organization founded by the late Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo, offering to purchase African art looted from collections abroad. By 2020, when Docolo died in a diving accident in Dubai, his expedition had successfully retrieved 15 objects.

Restoration remains a struggle for African governments, and the African Union has placed the return of looted cultural assets on its agenda. The continental body aims to create a uniform policy on the issue.

Zimbabwe has insisted on bringing back some 3,000 artifacts from Britain. These include spears and swagger sticks as well as the skulls of fighters who resisted colonialism. They were beheaded and their heads were sent abroad as war trophies.

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Negotiations between British and Zimbabwean officials have yielded no success, but the matter is so important to the southern African nation that last year President Emmerson Mnangagwa suggested an exchange: the remains of colonist Cecil Rhodes, who is buried in Zimbabwe. , in exchange for the ancestral remains it meant a lot to his people.

Some Zimbabwean activists have started an online campaign called #bringbackourbones, protesting outside the British High Commission in neighboring South Africa last year.

Rafael Chikukwa, who runs the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, said funeral or ritual objects have no resonance outside Africa.

“Why should we allow so-called museums, which are actually crime scenes and homes of stolen items, to tell us that we have to prove the items are ours?” He told the Associated Press. “As much as we celebrate the return of the tooth of former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba” (from Belgium), let’s not celebrate too much. Let’s remind ourselves that the work has just begun. ,

Similar efforts are underway in South Africa, where the Ifa Lethu Foundation seeks to bring back a range of items often taken by diplomats or private collectors during the apartheid era. The organization has returned more than 700 pieces, including valuable works by South African artist Gerard Sekoto, who died in Paris in 1993.

In Rwanda, a recent collaboration with former colonial master Belgium included sharing digital copies of more than 4,000 songs and other recordings housed in the Royal Museum of Central Africa outside Brussels.

Items, including the royal regalia, remain largely intact, and since the digital sound archives were not shared in the context of the repatriation, “You cannot say that Belgium They have already been handed back.”

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“Heritage, both tangible and intangible things, are the footprints of our ancestors and we should own them,” he said.

The whereabouts of the remains of one of Rwanda’s last emperors, Yuhi Musinga, is a serious problem in the East African country. Many Rwandans believe that the body of Musinga, who had opposed Belgium, deposed in 1931 and died in the Congo in 1944, was sent to Belgium.

There should be accountability in that case, said Antoni Nyagahine, a professor of history at Rwanda’s Gitwe University.

“We were robbed of our cultural values ​​and, as you know, people without roots are people without souls,” he said.


Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe and Asadu from Abuja, Nigeria. Associated Press writers Ignatius Susuna in Kigali, Rwanda, and Mogomotsi Magom in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed.

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