African countries have reclaimed many historical objects, so-called artefacts, from European countries.
Recently, Nigeria and Germany signed a treaty for the return of hundreds of artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes. The deal followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign 26 pieces known as Abomey Treasures. These are valuable works of art from the 19th century Dahomey Kingdom in present-day Benin.
But many artifacts are still missing, and some countries have also resisted their return.
One such object is an eight-legged seat from ancient times kingdom in Uganda. The important artifact is now at a museum Thousands of miles away in the UK.
The wooden seat is housed at the University of Oxford. It is one of at least 279 objects stolen there from the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom during the colonial period. Oxford has fended off attempts to bring the artifact back to Uganda, saying it had been donated to the university.
Apollo John Rwamparo is Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda. He urged the British “to act as the French and the Germans did and return the artifacts”.
Uganda officials are preparing to meet with the University of Cambridge in the UK in November. The school has an unknown number of artifacts from Africa. Recently there was bronze chicken to Nigeria.
But it was difficult to negotiate with London’s British Museum, said Rose Mwanja Nkaale. She is Uganda’s Commissioner for Museums and monuments. “We can start with those who are willing to work together. There’s no point in fighting these people.”
The British Museum has a large collection from all over Africa. It is protected by a 1963 law that prevents the museum from returning artifacts unless the objects are deemed unsuitable or useless. Some African officials believe the law is becoming progressively weaker as other nations are more open to handing them back.
Abba Isa Tijani is Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. He said Nigeria was pressuring Britain and other countries to change laws allowing the return of disputed collections. But he expressed concern that while some countries are starting to open up, in the UK that effort “hasn’t even started”.
Many of the artifacts from Africa are not even found. This led to an organization founded by the late Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo. She offers to buy stolen African art from collections abroad. By 2020, when Dokolo died, his group had successfully recovered 15 items.
However, recovering artifacts remains a struggle for African governments. And the African Union has put the return of stolen cultural property up for discussion. The union is aiming for a common policy on this issue in the near future.
Zimbabwe has pushed for the return of about 3,000 artefacts from Britain. This includes weapons as well as the skulls of fighters who fought it colonialism. Their heads were cut off and shipped as spoils of war.
Talks between British and Zimbabwean officials have not resulted in any major agreement. But the issue is so important to Zimbabwe that President Emmerson Mnangagwa proposed an exchange last year. Zimbabwe would return the remains of colonialist Cecil Rhodes buried in the country. In return, Zimbabwe would receive the remains of the fighters.
Rwanda recently struck a deal with its former colonial occupier, Belgium. The deal involved sharing digital copies of over 4,000 songs and other recordings held at the Royal Museum for Central Africa outside Brussels.
But the whereabouts of the remains of one of Rwanda’s last kings, Yuhi Musinga, is a serious issue in the east African country. Many Rwandans believe that the body of Musinga, who resisted the Belgians and died in Congo, was sent to Belgium.
Antoine Nyagahene is a history professor at Gitwe University in Rwanda. He said there should be some justice in this case.
“We have been robbed of our cultural values and, as you know, we are a people without root are a people without a soul,” he said.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from The Associated Press.
words in this story
kingdom– n. a country ruled by a king or queen
museum – n. a building in which interesting and valuable things are collected and shown to the public
chicken – n. a young male chicken
monument – n. a building, statue, etc. honoring a person or event
colonialism – n. Control of one country over another territory and its population
root – n. the family history of a person or group of people
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