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Faith Nyasuguta

Now and then an artefact or two is returned to Africa in a bid to show remorse for the egregious theft levels that defined the colonial era, but this is barely enough to wipe away the damage that had been wrought on the affected regions.

Hoarded African treasures, still demonstrate a pattern of identity theft the perpetrators continue to unsuccessfully address. Currently, some 90% of African artefacts are still housed in western museums and there remains a popular narrative amongst westerners that their museums are the right places to house these monuments based on security.

However, in recent years, pressure has been mounting on western powers to return stolen African properties. These demands have caught the attention of the intended targets as western leaders all over the world have vouched to begin returning African treasures. 

/Metropolitan museum of art/

In 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a formal apology for the theft of African artefacts in the colonial era and demanded that all African artefacts in France should be returned to their rightful place.

In the same year, Ireland also vowed to return mummified remains in its country back to Egypt. In addition to this, London’s Natural History Museum and Cambridge University noted that it is ready to return stolen human remains back to Zimbabwe.

The Berlin-based Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation promised to return 23 artefacts, including jewellery, tools, and fashion items, to Namibia.

The list goes on and on, and although the return process has been slow, there are a number of treasures that have been returned to Africa, below is a list of artefacts which have been returned in the last year. 

The Benin Bronzes: On the 20th of December 2022, it was announced that Germany handed over 22 Nigerian artefacts that were looted in the 19th Century from the ancient Kingdom of Benin, back to Nigeria at a ceremony in the capital, Abuja.

This return followed the promise by the German government earlier in the year, to return 1000 of these historic treasures. These objects before their return had been scattered across museums in the UK.

Benin Bronzes /Guardian/

Egyptian Green Coffin: The looted Egyptian sarcophagus was returned to Cairo in a ceremony on the 2nd of January 2023. Before this, the coffin had been on display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science since 2013. This artefact dates back to the Late Dynastic Period, which spanned 664 BC to 332 BC, and belonged to a priest called Ankhen Naat.

Green Coffin of Ankhenmaat /USA today/

Patrice Lumumba’s Teeth: Patrice Lumumba, a name synonymous with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s liberation struggle, met one of the most tragic ends in his country’s history.

Given his status at the time, and his relevance to the history of the DRC, what remained of his corpse quickly became a relic, one that was stolen, particularly his gold tooth which was kept as a trophy by the Belgian policeman who oversaw the disposal of his corpse. After 61 years, Belgian authorities finally returned the gold tooth to his children on June 22, 2022.

/Image, Red Pepper/
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Faith Nyasuguta

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