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ECOWAS Member States discuss the return of African Cultural Property to their Countries of origin

09 Apr, 2019
Group photo

Cotonou, 9 April 2019. Benin Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sports, Oswald Homeky, has stated that cultural property is a part of Africans and constitutes a vital component of African history.

Speaking during the opening of the meeting of Directors of Cultural Heritage and Museum organised by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mr Homeky commended and recalled his country’s demand for the return of property derived from its unique and rich historical and cultural heritage.

The demand, rather than being a victory for Benin was instead a recognition of the efforts by African leaders, conscious of the political stakes and the strong cultural and identity values of their heritage.

“Benin should fully take up its leadership and pioneering role in the hopefully shared, if not collective effort by Member States of our region. I expect that my country, Benin will be able to share its impressive experience with all participants during this Cotonou meeting”, stated Mr Homeky.

He urged participants to make relevant recommendations and resolutions that will be presented to the ECOWAS Ministers of Culture at their next meeting.

The high table

The ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, Prof Leopoldo Amado urged the participants to ensure that the recommendations to be made would lead to the implementation of a consistent regional action without undermining ongoing efforts.

“Similarly, the proposals – which will constitute the regional action plan long awaited by the Heads of State –  will be practical in the short, medium and long terms, be of interest to the region and involve shared responsibility at the national and regional levels”, Prof Amado declared.

Speaking on behalf of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, he pointed out the need for a common front, to develop a mechanism that will ensure the return of cultural African artefacts to their countries of origin with a view to reconstituting the cultural heritage of the region.

The time is ripe for the region to have a road map and an adequate strategy which reflect the various activities to be undertaken to achieve credible results in the quest for the return of cultural property, he opined.

Also in attendance was the Resident Representative of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), in Cotonou, Komlan Agbo, who underscored the importance of returning African cultural property to their countries of origin.

He commended the large turnout of Directors of Cultural Heritage and Museum of the Community to the meeting aimed at formulating the 2019/2023 Action Plan for the return African cultural items to their countries of origin.

The meeting equally seeks to identify the practical conditions for the return of African property and review the measures taken by countries for the return of their cultural items.

The participants will determine the artefacts of ECOWAS Member States held in the western countries, analyse the preservation and protection of cultural heritage of these States, propose joint actions leading to the adoption of a regional approach for the return of the cultural property, define the strategy for preserving cultural property once they are returned to their countries of origin.

In December 2018, in Abuja, Nigeria, the Heads of State and Government adopted a Political Declaration on the return of African cultural property to their countries of origin.

In the Declaration, West African leaders instructed the ECOWAS Commission to submit a regional action plan for the return of these items at their next session.

In fulfilment of this directive, a draft regional action plan was formulated by the Commission. However, prior to its submission to the Heads of State, it needs to be validated by the region’s directors of cultural heritage and endorsed by the Ministers for Culture of Member States, the objective for convening the Cotonou meeting.

Apart from making further improvement on the draft action plan, the meeting will also consider the road map on the return of cultural property, particularly the background, constraints and challenges, including the guidelines, strategic approaches and objectives, as well as activities for implementation.

Member States