The ECOWAS Commission through the Department of Education, Science and Culture, organised on 21 and 22 July 2022 in Cotonou, Benin, the 2022 edition of the meeting of the Regional Follow-up Committee of the 2019-2023 ECOWAS Action Plan for the return of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin.
The primary objective of the meeting was to prepare and discuss the planning of the international symposium on return procedures, slated for November 2022 in Dakar, Senegal.
Specifically, the meeting aimed to approve the themes and the planning of the international symposium on the return of cultural artefacts, identify international partners who could provide technical or financial support for the symposium, propose a partnership plan with the ambassadors of ECOWAS Member States to UNESCO, review the Terms of Reference of the inventory of cultural artefacts in foreign countries, and support resource mobilisation to finance the Action Plan on the return of cultural artefacts
The opening ceremony of the meeting was presided over by Hon. Jean Michel Abimbola, Benin's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts. It featured three statements. The statement by Dr. Mamadu Jao, ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, was read by Dr. Emile Zida, Head of Culture Division. On behalf of the Commissioner, Dr. Zida first commended the Benin authorities for their efforts to promote African culture in general and Benin culture, particularly regarding the successful return by France of 26 works of art from the Royal Palace of Abomey.
According to him, this preparatory meeting of the international symposium on return is held in a favourable context on the issue, given the decisions and successes achieved by some Member States in this area. Among others, he highlighted the honour bestowed by the Authority of Heads of State and Government on His Excellency Mr. Patrice Talon, by appointing him during their Summit held on 3 July 2022, as ECOWAS Champion on the issues of return, the successful return of works of art from Benin, the successful signing of an Agreement between Nigeria and Germany on 1 July 2022 for the return of 1100 cultural artefacts, mainly the bronzes of Benin City, etc.
In her statement, Hon. Abla Dzifa Gomashie of Ghana and Vice-Chairperson of the Regional Committee, on behalf of the Chairman of the Committee, underlined the fact that the efforts of members of the Committee must take into account the global approach of return, and going beyond the return of artefacts, should teach the youth about what our history has been. To her, the whole of Africa must play a key role in the return of cultural artefacts, for the benefit of future generations.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Erik Totah, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts of Benin insisted on the synergy of regional action portrayed by the ECOWAS Action Plan. While highlighting the efforts made by Member States in the region in this regard, he urged them to redouble their efforts to get back our cultural assets. Before concluding his remarks, he called on members of the Committee, while taking cognizance of the different stakes at political, diplomatic or strategic, economic, cultural and legal levels regarding the issue of return, to make realistic, objective and effective proposals for the implementation of this action plan to have a real impact and ensure that the international symposium is a success.
The closing ceremony of the meeting, presided over by the Chairman of the Regional Committee, Mr. Mallam Issa Assoumana, and which took place on Friday, 22 July, was attended by Mrs. Coline-Lee Toumson-Venite, Arts and Culture Advisor to the President of the Republic of Benin. Several recommendations were made during the meeting. To the attention of H.E. Patrice Talon, President of the Republic of Benin, the participants enlisted his support to make the international symposium on the issues of return a big and resounding success to the world and issue a strong Declaration on the issues of return in Africa.
The participants recommended, among other things, that ECOWAS should promptly notify the Senegalese authorities of the organisation of the Symposium and request their support, propose the return of cultural artefacts as one of the themes of the next UNESCO General Conference in 2023, and submit a request to UNESCO to grant ECOWAS observer status on its Return Committee. The Commission should also inform and involve the African Union in the organisation of the symposium, leave the initiative of the inventories to Member States in the holder countries, while supporting them in the negotiations and diplomatic engagement or take measures for the effective implementation of the revised roadmap, including the priorities of the Action Plan for the next 2 years.
Following the meeting and through the magnanimity of the Benin authorities, Committee members were afforded the opportunity to visit the Presidential Palace in Cotonou, the exhibition of the 26 works returned by France to Benin. It should be recalled that the Regional Committee includes leading political and diplomatic figures, most of whom are former ministers of culture or former ambassadors, as well as resource persons.
Source: ECOWAS (CEDEAO)