Africa: The continental expert workshop on the restitution of cultural property and heritage at the Museum of Black Civilization in Dakar, Senegal

In line with the implementation of the AU Theme of the Year roadmap for 2021: “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers to Build the Africa We Want”, the African Union Commission – Department of Health, Humanitarian and Social Affairs (HHS) in collaboration with the Government of Senegal and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) organized the continental expert workshop on the restitution of cultural property and heritage at the Museum of Black Civilization in Dakar, Senegal from November 30 to December 2, 2021. The continental expert workshop was preceded by a consultation of regional economic communities (RECs) on the restitution of cultural property which was held November 29, 2021.

The main objectives of the workshop were to develop a strong common African position paper on the restitution of cultural property and heritage and to produce a framework for action on negotiations for the return / restitution of cultural property subject to it. illicit traffic from the continent. The workshop also made it possible to reflect on policies for the restitution of cultural property in Africa and to establish networks of African cultural experts, decision-makers, dealers, auctioneers, museum curators, among others, working in the field of the fight against the illicit traffic of cultural goods and heritage.

The Continental Expert Workshop on the Restitution of Cultural Property and Heritage was officially declared open by HE Mr. Abdoulaye Diop, Minister of Culture and Communication of Senegal. In his speech, the Honorable Minister stressed that the world is currently facing significant changes, especially with digital developments and the consequences of the spread of COVID-19. He further underlined that at the national level, Senegal is aware of the present and future challenges of the restitution of cultural goods and heritage. In addition, he informed the meeting that a Special Committee for the Restoration and Return of Senegalese Collections Held by Western Museums has recently been established with a three-year action plan.

“The African Union has rightly addressed the relevant issue of the restitution of cultural property and heritage by organizing the continental workshop of experts on the restitution of cultural property and heritage which will draft a strong African position on the restitution of cultural heritage. patrimony. This decision is in line with the dedication of the continental organization, which increasingly places culture at the heart of its priorities “

As a result, we are strongly committed and I am happy to know that ECOWAS, like the African Union, is following with great interest the current developments and the initiatives taken by many Western institutions towards the restitution of looted cultural property. »Declared HE Mr. Abdoulaye Diop, Minister of Culture and Communication of Senegal.

During the opening, Ms. Cissé Mariama Mohamed, Director of Social Development, Culture and Sport welcomed the participants of the continental expert workshop on the restitution of cultural property and heritage, and expressed the gratitude from the AU Commission to the Senegalese Ministry of Culture and Communication. , the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the Museum of Black Civilization for their tireless efforts to make the workshop a reality.

Ms. Cissé underlined the role of experts and member states in advising and guiding possible ways to address issues related to the return of illicitly trafficked cultural property to the continent.

“The African Union has placed culture at the heart of the inclusive and sustainable development of human centers and as an essential investment tool to achieve poverty eradication. The process took into account national, regional, continental and global initiatives in the promotion, protection and restitution of cultural property and heritage. This is enshrined in the Constructive Act of the African Union, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Charter for the African Cultural Renaissance and the revised AU Plan of Action on Cultural and Creative Industries. Ms. Cissé said.

Ms. Guiomar Alonso Cano, Regional Advisor for Culture / West Africa – Sahel at UNESCO, in her address, she underlined that the fight against illicit trafficking and the return and restitution of cultural property in the African region is of the utmost importance to UNESCO. She added that illicit trafficking is a global problem as it requires collaborative cross-border work, she also encouraged member states to ratify the 1970 Convention to ensure the sustainability of the protection of African cultural property and heritage and their transmission to African countries. future generations.

“We are faced with an alarming scale of looting of cultural property in Africa and increasing demands for their return and restitution, it is indeed essential to strengthen regional and international cooperation. For us to be successful, we must strengthen the commitment and cooperation of all relevant actors. – Member States, multilateral institutions, technical and operational partners, the private sector, civil society and communities – together we need to lay the foundations for a long-term approach to address these issues. ”Ms. Alonso said.

The continental expert workshop brought together representatives of AU Member States, representatives of OSIWA, staff of the Museum of Black Civilizations, representatives of UNESCO, independent experts in culture and heritage, legal experts, AUCIL representatives, ICRC representatives, ICCROM representatives and AU Commission staff. .

The draft African Common Position Document on the Restitution of Cultural Property and Heritage, once finalized, will be presented to the AU Policy Organs for approval and dissemination to AU Member States.