Accepted Paper:

Decolonizing the cosmopolitan approach to the restitution of stolen artifacts in Africa  


Adeolu Oyekan (Nelson Mandela University)

Paper long abstract:

How are stolen artefacts from Africa to be preserved and managed in the face of the rising clamour for restitution? Kwame Appiah, in his work, "Whose Culture is it Anyway", invites us to see stolen cultural artifacts not as properties of societies from which they were stolen, but as individual works of art that exude attributes of our shared humanity. Many of those works he argues, are no less meaningful to their present locations than they are to people of their places of origin. He advanced the retention and custody of such artefacts in their present locations where in his view, they best embody the normative idea of cosmopolitanism. I argue in this paper that the cosmopolitan argument is an inadequate justification of the retention of stolen African artefacts in Western museums. I argue further that the view of European and American museums as sites of the sublime expression of cosmopolitan ideals speaks to the very need for its deconstruction as a Western idea that seeks the universalization of a hegemonic culture. Decolonizing the normative underpinning of the place of Western museums in the management stolen African artefacts require an appreciation of the African attitude to the history, meaning, significance and essences of looted artefacts under a reflexive framework that is multiple and inclusive. I shall further explicate the epistemic, historical and ethical basis for the reimagination of the idea of restitution and the inclusion of Africans in the management of stolen artefacts. The achievement of this requires a proper acknowledgement of theft, unethical profiteering and meaningful restitution. This approach, I conclude, represents a more ethical, inclusive and universal management of looted cultural artefacts.

Panel B09
Decolonizing African heritage inside and outside the African continent [initiated by the University of Mainz, with Leiden University/Anthropology, University of Rwanda]