The Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA), University of Ghana on Thursday, June 22, hosted a Conference on Restitution, Museums, and Cultural Policies in West Africa.
The conference was organised on the back of a six-month study on restitution funded by MIASA.
The study on restitution was done from October 2022 to March 2023 by Prof. Kodzo Gavua from the University of Ghana and Prof. Hans Peter Hahn from the Goethe University in Frankfurt to collaborate on the issues of restitution and cultural policy.
During the study, the two professors discussed field research on restitution in a number of countries to understand better how it is affected by cultural politics.
It was uncovered that those who appreciate the objects too much are unwilling to hand them over to anyone because they worry about the value of the artefacts.
Others think returning is not sufficient in terms of reparation. Some also called artefacts to be restituted catastrophic art and suggest they keep the collections in Europe as historical monuments.
It was agreed that restitution is not an event but is a whole process that entails a lot of negotiations between various stakeholders and the stakeholders comprise those at the national level including the Ghana Museums and Monuments board, the Attorney Generals Department, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking at the Conference on Restitution, Museums, and Cultural Policies in West Africa, Prof. Kodzo Gavua said the aim is that it will lead to further engagements that will inspire action.
He disclosed that there is an ongoing discussion between Ghana and Germany and hopefully artefacts will be restituted to Ghana when all is said and done.
“From here it has to go beyond the discourse among scholars. We need to engage the public. We have to assess the public understanding and value of those objects that are incarcerated in Europe and the essence of returning those objects back to Ghana because we need the objects as the basis of producing knowledge. They are elements that will enhance knowledge production here to bridge the gap between the present and the past and to inspire us into the future.
“We should have partnerships between us here who are asking for the items and the museums that are in Europe. What we are saying is that partnerships here should be based on mutual trust and respect. It shouldn’t be a matter of collaborating when our colleagues in Europe will have the agenda and just work with us to execute the agenda. We should be planning together, executing, and achieving it collectively to ensure that we don’t have any strife at the end of it all,” Prof. Kodzo Gavua said.
On his part, Prof. Hans Peter Hahn noted that although there are challenges, all efforts must be made toward successful restitution as it will contribute to improved collaboration between African and European countries.
He noted that restitution is not only related to remediating the evil of the past but is intended to impact the future while giving new meanings to returned artefacts.
To fast-track restitution, Prof. Hans Peter Hahn stressed that it is important for museums in Ghana and other African countries to work alongside their counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world.
Speaking as a Guest of Honour, the German Ambassador to Ghana, H.E Daniel Krull said he hopes the conference opens up avenues that deflate the complexity of the problems involved in restitution for the outcome to help speed up the process of returning artefacts to Africa including to Ghana.
He assured that the German government is ready to work with government of Ghana to return artefacts that belong to the country and represent something to the people.
“I want to emphasize that complexities should not prevent us from taking action in this regard,” H.E Daniel Krull stressed.
He further pledged to support the processes of restituting items back to Ghana.
“We can continue an academic debate forever and not achieve anything but as a practitioner, I will like to ask that we move beyond that and make sure artefacts are coming back to where they originated.
“We need to move this out of the academic lighthouse and the get public involved in this debate. I’m ready to offer my support to assist in getting this message out to the country and traditional areas. I believe this is important to many people in this country,” H.E Daniel Krull added.
Speaking to Modernghana News on the sidelines of the Conference, MIASA Director Susann Baller underscored the importance of the conference, stating that her outfit has an interest in the restitution of artefacts because they believe these objects should and have to be restituted to where they belong.
While she admits restituting every item is not something that can be done overnight, she notes that it is important for countries to continue working to take it one step at a time.
“We have to try and work the politics together. The idea of having closer collaboration between museums in the north and in the south can be one step to facilitate the shares heritage also and then also bring back as many artefacts as possible," Susann Baller said.
The Conference on Restitution, Museums, and Cultural Policies in West Africa was attended by scholars, archaeologists, representatives from museums, among others.