Thu, 28 Sep 2023 Feature Article

Germany Leading Crusade For Restitution Of Looted African Artefacts?

Queen mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.Queen mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

We were very surprised to read the following from a leading Nigerian newspaper reporting on a speech made by a German envoy in an event concerning Germany’s attempts to secure a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and requesting Nigerian support.:

UNSC: Germany deserves permanent seat — Envoy. Germany leads the crusade for restitution and returns of looted African artefacts and has also been involved in ensuring mutual cultural exchange between it and African countries in the past 50 years.

“The relationship between Nigeria and Germany in the area of culture, we have been one of the major patrons of African culture and art over the years and we’ve supported Nigeria in

areas through institutions like the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, there is a centre in Germany now named Iwalewa House at a University of Bayreuth to show the extent of mutual respect that exists between us.’

We were disconcerted by this claim that Germany ‘leads the crusade for restitution.’ (1) We were not aware that the struggle to recover our African artefacts was a ‘crusade.’ Used in an area where religion still has significance, the word ‘crusade’ usually symbolises an accompanying religious or extremely emotional, spiritual element that most of us would find unnecessary and disturbing and would not use in this context.

As readers may remember, Germany, like most European colonial powers had been involved in the colonial period in the looting and hoarding of looted African artefacts.(2) The demands by African peoples for their artefacts has always been resisted by Germany like all European colonialists and it was only recently, precisely 2022, that Germany returned looted artefacts to Nigeria.

There are still an enormous amount of looted African artefacts in Germany and other European States.(3)

One could say that Germany resisting pressures, denying demands, had been under intense pressure to accept restitution of looted artefacts. We have appreciated in several articles the enormous efforts Germany has made to reach the present situation.(4) But can one say that Germany has been leading the

struggle to recover African artefacts? Benedicte Savoy details in her book, Africa’s Long Struggle for her art, the attempts made by German officials to avoid restitution.(5) Kwame Opoku has explained in hundreds of articles resistance by Germany and other Western countries to restitution .(6) Postkolonial Berlin, through Christian Koop and Suroro Mboro have spent decades persuading Germans to look at their colonial past and return African artefacts and human remains. Peju Layiwola has been urging Germans and other Europeans to return the Benin bronzes(7) The contributions of the various critics and activists only makes sense against a background of German resistance to restitution. In short, Germany had to be taken to restitution, hands and feet bound, resisting the obvious colonial reckoning that restitution involves and the various massacres in colonial times.

Discussions about the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, show the extent of the debate on restitution and German reluctance to examine the colonial past. Many in Germany seem even to have forgotten that before the Second World war, Germany had colonies in Namibia, Ruanda, Tanzania, and Togo. The horrible atrocities and genocides committed by Germany have not been forgotten and continue to occupy public attention.(8)

By advancing her role in the restitution struggle, as an additional factor for support in her campaign for a permanent seat on the Security Council, Germany is asking to be paid or honoured for her role, whatever it was in the restitution struggle for looted African artefacts. We

have expressed our appreciation for German efforts in this context in several articles. (9) But should one compensate a country that looted artefacts of others with brutality and after hundred years has returned a certain number? Germany has undoubtedly done better than the United Kingdom where the major museums holding looted African artefacts, The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, have refused to return any looted artefacts and hide behind alleged legal difficulties. Shall we compensate all those countries that return looted artefacts after years of refusal? This would be similar to compensating slave owners, as opposed to the slaves whom they finally agreed to liberate after decades of exploitation under most inhuman conditions. (10)

We leave aside the question whether looted artefacts are so important that their restitution can be exploited for gaining a seat in the United Nations Security Council by countries that have for decades refused to comply with UNESCO/United Nations resolutions on the issue.

Why would a German envoy give a description of the role of Germany in the restitution struggle which is not exactly correct? Did he assume that his Nigerian audience would be ignorant of the exact role of Germany in the restitution process even though Nigeria had a lot to do with Germany in this matter? Or was this simply a colonialist reflex to manufacture a story for his African audience?

To attribute leadership of the African struggle for restitution of looted artefacts to Germany is to deny African agency in restitution matters and to reinforce old colonialist and racist prejudices that denied Africans the capacity to invent anything useful and their need for the control by Europeans or more precisely the ‘white man’ even in matters concerning their lives. This is a convenient excuse for Western domination in every aspect of life on the African Continent.

The existing domination of Westerners in the production of knowledge concerning Africa has also been, naturally extended to research on restitution of looted artefacts. A recent publication by Molemo Moiloa, Reclaiming Restitution: Centering and Contextualizing the African narrative, could assert and establish that: ‘The restitution of African heritage – artefacts and human remains – is one of the vital social justice issues of our times. It is about recognising centuries of devastation of the African continent, and taking a step towards social, historical and cultural repair for Africans themselves. Its therefore without question that Africans should be – and have historically been – at the forefront of narratives on restitution of African heritage. And yet, this report, which tracks the presence of Africans in the global narrative, indicates an intolerable erasure of Africans across academia, online media and social networks’. (11) The same study declared that ‘In their arguments and writing on heritage restitution, African museum professionals and academics have spent much energy attempting to convince the world – and particularly museums of the West – of the right of Africans to their own material culture and ancestors. Authors such as 11 12 13 Eyo , Shyllon , Mbow and others have discussed the extent to which restitution is an ethical imperative, as well as the role that heritage and culture play in the re-constitution of new nations, post- independence. Up until the 80s, while African authors writing on heritage restitution often had to deal with racist and problematic arguments against the capacities of Africans to care for their own heritage, they also often sought to address what restitution could do for Africans, and the role of heritage and culture more broadly.’(12)

It may well be though that the Germans are the most significant contributors to the financing of major projects in this area, including some of the major conferences held on the African Continent as well as in the West. We have yet work out the implications of such dependence on non-African sources in the struggle for the restitution of looted African artefacts, especially when the major financing comes from countries holding considerable numbers of looted African art. Much of the scholarly work on restitution comes from outside the African Continent.

Notwithstanding the above, we would urge Germany to pursue the path it has taken since 2021 as regards restitution, irrespective of discussions on Security

Council reform. The remaining looted African artefacts in Germany must be returned to their African owners on conditions mutually agreed. Transparency must be ensured, and public information must be ensured. Secrecy as to the number of artefacts to be loaned to previous illegal holders of looted artefacts cannot contribute to mutual understanding between Africans and Europeans.

NOTES seat-envoy/ We assume the German envoy is aware that should Germany obtain a permanent seat in the Security Council, Europe, or more precisely, the European Union would be having three permanent seats-France, United Kingdom, and Germany, whereas the whole continent of Africa does not have even one seat, Latin America also has no permanent seat and the whole of Asia, including China and Idia, has one permanent seat,held by China. One could also envisage a new structure of organization where all members have equal rights.

K. Opoku, Benin to Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin bronzes made in Berlin?

. K. Opoku, The Benin Bronzes, Restitution and Decolonization. The Debate on Colonial Loot and Reparations, https://kolonialismus.blogs.uni- looting-of-art/

K. Opoku, Berlin Decision On Benin Restitution: Germany On The Way To Restitution Of Looted African Artefacts restitution-germany-on.html K. Opoku, Keynote by Dr. Kwame Opoku: The Benin Bronzes, Restitution and Decolonization. The Debate on Colonial Loot and Reparations

Bénédicte Savoy, Afrikas Kampf um seine Kunst: Geschichte einer postkolonialen Niederlage, C.H.Beck, München,2021. Africa’s Struggle for its Art: History of a Postcolonial Defeat, Princeton University Press 2022.Le long combat de l’Afrique pour son art: Histoire d’une défaite postcoloniale, Editions du Seuil,2021.

K. Opoku, Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria's Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts? germans-never-hear-directly-or-indirectly-nigerias-demand-for-return-of-looted-art.htmlK. Opoku, Return of stolen skulls by Germany to Namibia: Closure of a horrible chapter? stolen-skulls-by-germany-to-namibia-closure-of-a-horrible-chapter/print.html

K. Opoku, Would German Authorities finally allow Africans to bury their Dead? finally-allow-africans-to-bury-thei.html

K. Opoku, Pressure On Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation And Humboldt- Forum To Return Illegally Acquired Artefacts And Human Remains heritage-foundation-and-humbol.html

K. Opoku, Parzinger’s misconceptions and misrepresentations of the restitution of African artefacts misrepresentations-of-the-restitution-of-african-artefacts/

K. Opoku, Humboldt Forum And Selective Amnesia: Research Instead Of Restitution Of African Artefacts. amnesia-research.html

  1. A Blueprint for Decolonization in Berlin blueprint

No Humboldt 21: Moratorium für Das Humboldt- Forum in Berliner Schloss

Sururu Mboro,‘Nonsense in History Lesson’

Mnyaka Sururu Mboro & Christian Kopp Letter: Restitution of cultural objects and human remains from Africa objects-and-human-remai.html

Mnyaka Sururu Mboro und Christian Kopp, Wollen sie uns verhöhnen?

« content/uploads/2016/07/S%C3%BCdlink-176-Mnyaka-Sururu-Mboro-und- Christian-Kopp.pdf Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Tahir Della und Christian Kopp

Peju Layiwola, 'Making Meaning from a Fragmented Past: 1897 and the Creative Process', Open Arts Journal, 1 October 2014, : art and the restitution question

Questions of ownership of Benin treasures benin-treasures-by-peju-layiwola.html layiwola-fordert-rueckgabe-von-raubkunst-a-ba88a577-974a-4bc8-bde4- e4f08c148faa

Prof. Peju Layiwola, Benin Royal Family: The Restitution of the looted Benin Bronzes in Cologne

  1. The New York Times, A Forgotten Genocide: What Germany Did in Namibia, and What It’s Saying Now genocide.html

Rob Schmitz, Germany Officially Recognizes It Committed Genocide In Present-Day Namibia officially-recognizes-it-committed-genocide-in-present-day-namibia

Deutsche Welle, Germany recognizes colonial-era Namibia genocide genocide/a-57671070

Welt-Sichten, Wer hat den Kopf von Mangi Meli? https://www.welt-

K. Opoku, Germany Still Refuses To Apologise For Genocide Of Herero And Nama In Namibia apologise-for-genocide-of-herero-an.html

  1. K. Opoku, Berlin Decision On Benin Restitution, see note 4 above.
  2. Olivette Otele, interactive/2023/mar/31/more-than-money-the-logic-of-slavery-reparations

David Olusoga: "Thousands of Britons opposed abolition – because they owned slaves" abolition-act-black-history-david-olusoga/

  1. Molemo Moiloa, Reclaiming Restitution: Centering and Contextualizing the African narrative, Academic Fellows Report ,Africa No Filter | July 2022, ii
  2. Molemo Moiloa, ibid, p. 2

Queen mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

Nefertiti, Egypt, now in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany, Egypt, now in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany.

Mandu yenu, Bamoun, Cameroon, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. Did King Njoya, Kingdom of Bamoun, give the original throne, a sacred symbol of his people to the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, as a gift and then make a copy for his people and kingdom?

Surviving Herero returning from Omaheke Desert where they had been driven by German troops after the Battle at Waterberg; two women in front were unable to stand. Tendaguru dinosaures, Tanzania, now in Natural Science Museum, Berlin, Germany.