Righting historic wrongs.

AuthorBumbray, Rashida

For people who have long been denied justice, the return of African culture heritage is more than a symbolic gesture. Restitution--the process through which objects stolen by colonial powers can be returned to their communities of origin--is not about being preoccupied with the wrongs of the past, it is an action to right the future.

With scores of African art, artefacts, and human remains still held in the collections of Western museums, it's essential to come together to make restitution a reality.

To do this, we need greater commitment and cooperation between national governments and multilateral institutions, leaders in the worlds of art and academia, African civil society and diaspora groups, and philanthropy. We must build on the work of Africans and those of African descent who for generations have advocated for returns.

Since the publication of the 2018 Sarr-Savoy report, we're seeing hopeful signs of progress. France is currently reviewing legislation to officially return 26 looted artefacts to Benin and the sword of El Hadj Tall to Senegal--a welcome move for redressing France's role in colonialism and repatriating some of its more than 90,000 artefacts from sub-Saharan Africa. Other efforts in various European countries remain in nascent stages.

To make greater strides, we need high-level discussions between Europe and Africa on the legacies of colonialism, and the development of commissions to focus on restitution policies.

The African Union has led the way by referencing restitution in Agenda 2063 and ECOWAS has established a five-year Action Plan to move this forward.

The research and policy recommendations of the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) lay out clear pathways for returning looted cultural heritage held in the United Kingdom.

As the largest private funder of human rights, the Open Society Foundations are supporting restitution efforts as part of our mission to work for justice and equality--conditions that are only possible if we can fully uproot oppressive systems and dynamics.

As Open Society's president, Patrick Gaspard, said when the initiative launched, "the legacy of colonial violence has deep implications for the ways that racism and imbalances of power are perpetuated today."

That is why last November we pledged $15m towards strengthening efforts to return looted objects to the African continent. Over four years, our initiative--unique in the philanthropic world--will support visionary citizens...

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