European nations involved in the Slave Trade and its associated crimes against African people should render a formal apology, says President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
“No amount of money can restore the damage caused by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its consequences, which spanned many centuries,” he noted.
Addressing the opening session of a summit dubbed the ‘Global Convening for the Restitution of African Heritage’, at the W.E.B. du Bois Centre, in Accra, he said the time was long overdue.
The crimes and damage caused to the people, psyche, image and character of Africans the world over, demanded that the perpetrators of the slave trade formally admitted their guilt, he advised.
The three-day summit is being organised under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations – the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance and human rights.
It focuses on interrogating key questions to continue to advance and build a resilient and sustainable restitution movement.
The activities include interactive thematic sessions, networking for key stakeholders including, representatives from the African Union (AU) as well as the West African regional block, ECOWAS, United Nations agencies, artists and academia.
The convening is being held amid global pressure and demand for the repatriation of African heritage, particularly stolen cultural relics and artefacts which embodied the identity of the people.
At its 44th plenary meeting on December 6, 2021, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution titled “Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin”, proposed by Greece and supported by an unprecedented 111 countries.
The resolution recognises the importance of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, together with other international conventions.
It enjoins member States to consider becoming parties to conventions that specifically address the return and restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.
President Akufo-Addo urged Africans to engage with those from the Diaspora and form a united front to advance the cause of reparations.
“Restitution, return, reparation and repatriation of stolen and looted African cultural properties at the precolonial and colonial circumstances, have to be issues of major concern to all Africans.
“I support fully the initiative for the return and reparation of African cultural properties to the continent.
“My government’s vision is in line with the aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063, which envisages an Africa with strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics,” he assured.
The President explained that most of the cultural properties, when returned, would also offer the people the opportunity to develop local knowledge, technological, cultural and aesthetic value of the objects.
It will tap into the continent’s rich heritage and culture to enhance the continent’s togetherness.
President Nana Akufo-Addo acknowledged the fact that the restitution of cultural properties was not without tension and contestation.
Therefore, to ensure that the restitution processes do not invoke undue contestation, it is important that state and non-state institutions, activist groups and local community leaders work in partnership with international counterparts based on mutual trust and respect.
“This will involve dialogue, negotiation and consensus-building at all levels,” he advised.
He cited how some countries such as Senegal, Nigeria and Benin, had managed successfully to regain possession of some of the cultural properties that were illegally moved out of their territories.
Ghana, he said, regained some stolen cultural properties and relics, stating how in 2008, the Government collaborated with the elders of Ahanta to seek the return of the severed head of Nana Badu II, who was executed in 1838.
Other success stories include the return of some collections of the Ashanti Royal Family, and an Ashanti stool in 1985 by the British Government.
The cultural relics among the metal castings, human remains, carvings, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings were moved from Africa either through the expeditions of the 1800s, stolen or acquired under questionable circumstances.
Reports indicate that over 90 per cent of these artworks lie outside Africa with numerous leaders calling for their repatriation as an honest gesture of addressing colonial injustices meted out to the continent.
The Quai Branly Museum in Paris, for instance, houses about 70,000 cultural objects from sub-Saharan Africa.
Approximately 85 per cent of all collections at the Africa Museum in Belgium are from the Congo, and the Humboldt Forum in Germany, has in its possession some 75,000 African traditional relics.
It is believed that from Africa, these treasures were either exchanged in Europe as gifts or sold at auction.
The Benin Bronzes, made of brass, have particularly shaped the restitution debate due to the heightened publicity they have received in Europe and Nigeria where they were taken from.
President Nana Akufo-Addo lauded the Open Society Foundations for the discourse and initiative.
This, he said, was important as it would contribute to efforts to ensure that African cultural properties were successfully returned to the continent and its rightful owners.
He asked the Society to support Ghana’s national focal team and other similar teams on restitution as well as committees set up for similar reasons on the African continent.
Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma, former President of Sierra Leone, said the stealing and keeping of African cultural artworks outside the continent was a great injustice to the people.
“It is like slavery and all other forms of exploitation,” he said.
Therefore, these artefacts and relics ought to be returned to their rightful owners, he stated.