Ethiopia: High Time to Restitute African Cultural Treasures

Cultural assets portray a given community’s or society’s way of life. Sculpture, manuscripts, monuments, and artifacts are some of the legendary artistic works of Africans that articulate the continent’s ancient civilization.

African cultural heritage is not only a mirror of people’s identities; it is a fundamental pillar for building a common future. It is a legacy that unites all Africans, strengthens their solidarity, and shapes their identity as a continent.

However, these cultural assets, which showcase the ancient civilization of Africans, disappeared or were not found in their actual present. These heritages were either looted by African colonizers or robbed by the greedy sons and daughters of Africans who wanted to gain some wealth by selling and collecting these materials.

Experts estimate that 80-90% of Africa’s cultural heritage can be found in European museums, or rather, in their storage. In any case, all Africans agreed that these heritages are now in the museums of European countries.

The looters are not ashamed of the tasks done; instead, they display or exhibit these cultural works of Africans in their museums and generate income. The displayed cultural assets of Africa depicted the immoral behavior of European countries and how they scrambled African countries instead of showing their identity.

By no means should these cultural assets of Africa return to their former places. Looting the cultural heritage is a shameful act, as it defames the reputation of these countries. All in all, looting cultural heritage is a criminal act that should be condemned.

The restitution of the cultural heritage of Africa is not a matter of recovering art objects; it aims to preserve and translate our history, values, and culture for future generations. Thus, the restitution of African cultural assets deeply needs the close collaboration of African countries as well as dialogue with the countries holding these cultural goods.

The importance of enhancing and preserving African heritage has increased recently, especially the classical African art works that are still located outside our continent. This enables our culture to shine throughout the world.

In this regard, Africans are invited to work together towards the common goal, which is the development of continental and national policies aimed at protecting and enhancing their cultural heritage, especially by educating the young generation about its knowledge and preservation.

They are also invited to engage in implementing policies to support the development of cultural and creative works that will contribute to the sustainable development of the continent.

Nowadays, Africa is going through a transformative cultural revolution. Increasingly, the creative and cultural industries have become a very soft power in global computation, as art is one of the rapidly growing sectors.

Preserving and fostering an appreciation for cultural heritage entails a concentration on monuments, artistic works, and cultural practices and traditions that mirror the identity of a society or human community.

Facilitating the return and restitution of cultural properties under the intergovernmental committee for promoting the right of cultural property to the country of origin is the objective of the flagship on cultural heritage to support African Union member states.

African countries need to collaborate jointly and work for the preservation and restitution of cultural heritage. In this regard, much is expected from the Africa Union in terms of creating solidarity among nations and facilitating conditions for the return of cultural heritage.

Indeed, the task of restituting cultural heritage should not be on the agenda at once. As it takes a long time to negotiate, it requires the due attention of Africans. For example, the Axum obelisk, which was in Rome, was returned to Ethiopia after 68 years. Hence, the continent should make a persistent effort until their diplomatic effort ends with success. On the other hand, the restitution should focus on culturally relevant and secret historical objects. It is not difficult to imagine that some of the cultural assets of Africa may not be in the area they deserve. As a result, some of these assets might be damaged.

Apart from returning these heritages, it is quite imperative to offer training for Africans on heritage management. This helps African countries rescue their heritages from being sold again and again by robbers.

So far, African countries have carried out a number of deliberations with regard to the restitution and preservation of cultural heritages. However, the concluding remarks of those meetings were not translated into action. Apart from condemning the looting of cultural heritage, African countries have to begin to talk with the countries where these treasures are found.

On the other hand, African countries should come up with strong policies and strategies in order to impede the illegal trafficking of cultural heritage. It is high time for Africa to work for the return of its heritage!

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