Looted African Treasures Must be Returned

Published on 9th May 2018

Ethiopia's bid to have Britain return documents and artefacts plundered 150 years ago by British military forces is a step in the right direction. Britain, in an ironic twist, has proposed that the items be loaned to Ethiopian institutions. Ethiopia’s quest once again raises the question on whether artefacts spirited away from Africa should remain in foreign custody or be returned to the people and lands of their origin.

Many African artefacts in museums and private collections around the world were acquired in circumstances of questionable legality. In 1925 for example, Pope Pius XI organized a missionary exhibition to extol missionary work all over the non-western world. About 100,000 items were sent but only about half were returned after the exhibition. The prices fetched by such artefacts on the international market encourage trafficking of all forms, including the illegal raiding of archaeological sites.

Following Marcus Garvey’s observation that "a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots," this plunder has played a great part in annihilating Africa’s history. World governments must be prevailed upon to disseminate regularly lists indicating cultural objects that have been registered as stolen and illegally exported to dealers and buyers. African countries must on the other hand develop pride in their history and raise institutions that will protect documents and art objects bequeathed to them and bring to life their culture.

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