PRESS RELEASE– Return of the Benin bronzes –
Berlin, 6 October 2022
The Benin bronzes are FINALLY returning home after 125 years. A very welcome development through many years of protracted struggle.
The British Queen is dead, but the monarchy that murdered our ancestors and stole the Benin bronzes lives on in our past, present and future. Her death brings back traumatising memories for us Africans/Blacks. When British soldiers invaded the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, they ransacked the royal palace and captured more than 5000 brass and ivory objects, including the head of a king. It was a German consul and businessman who bought this piece in Lagos a few weeks later. With him, the bronze made its way to Europe and landed in Berlin.
The news went around the world on 1 July 2022. Germany “releases” part of its “art treasure” from the stock of stolen so-called artefacts. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the so-called Benin Bronzes of the Kingdom of Benin, stolen in 1897 during the colonial era. With this declaration, Germany undertakes to transfer the ownership of these sacred objects to their rightful owner, the Kingdom of Benin, represented by the State of Nigeria.
“What was stolen must be returned. It is as if a car belongs to me, but someone else is driving it,” Peju Layiwola (Nigerian art historian) said recently.
We, African / Black Community (ABC) Germany / Committee for an African Monument in Berlin (KADiB), welcome and are very happy about this long overdue decision. However, we cannot wait another day for this dream to become a reality. Put an end to the business plan of robbery and receiving stolen goods!
We are also aware of a planned return of the so-called Ngonnso sculpture. The Ngonnso sculpture represents the origin, spirituality and culture of the Nso people of Cameroon.
Almost three months ago (09.07.2022), the King of Fontem / Bangwa (Cameroon), H. M. Asabaton Fontem Njifua, was a guest at the Cologne Rauthenstrauch-Joest-Museum.
Led by the King himself, the Cameroonian delegation is demanding the immediate return of, among other things, a sacred sculpture – the “Lefem” shrine – of the Bangwa People, which the German colonialists stole during the cruel German colonial rule in Cameroon.
As much as we are happy about these developments, we can only see them as a beginning. They are unmistakable stage results of our tireless and relentless decades-long anti-colonial / anti-racist resistance struggles to decolonise society, both in this country and in motherland Africa.
- the unconditional return of all looted objects from the colonial era,
- the immediate return of countless bones of our ancestors that are still stashed away in cellars of German museums and research institutions,
- the complete and unconditional decolonisation of all neo-colonial and imperial power constructs or power systems in the motherland Africa.
We do not need tranquillisers! To ensure that these new welcome developments do not remain mere lip service in the end, the federal government of Germany must follow up with serious deeds in a recognisable manner. Therefore, we emphasise here once again our demands to the German Federal Government and German society as a whole:
- The swift and inclusive implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 1 July 2022 between Germany and Nigeria on the return of the stolen Benin bronze – inclusive because: Everything about us without us is against us!
- The immediate return of all already identified colonially encumbered collection items, such as the Ngonnso sculpture of the Nso people as well as the sanctuary of the Bangwa People, “Lefem”, etc.
- The immediate and unconditional return of the bones of our ancestors – victims of German genocides in Africa – which were unlawfully confiscated in German museums and research institutions.
- The transfer of provenance research of unidentified stolen African collection items from colonial contexts to Africa, under the supervision of the African Union (AU). It is infuriating and highly unacceptable that these shrines are still in the possession of the perpetrators, legally.
- The establishment of a central memorial as a place of remembrance and learning about colonialism and neo-colonialism, as stated in the coalition agreement of the current German government. We also call for a comprehensive reappraisal of German colonial history and its continuities at all levels.
- The payment of compensation to all victims of German colonialism or genocide in Africa. This process should start with assessments monitored by the African Union through negotiations with civil society in Africa, the African Diaspora and representatives of the respective African governments.
We are already calling on everyone to participate in the 17th commemorative march in honour of the African/Black heroines and victims of Maafa (“The Great Destruction” in Africa).
This commemorative march will take place on Saturday, 25 February 2023 in Berlin (Wilhelmstraße 92), as always on the last Saturday of February, in commemoration of the end of the ominous Berlin Africa Conference of 1884/85.
Furthermore, we call on all African / Black organisations, initiatives and activists in Germany to actively participate in the design and implementation of the commemoration March and the accompanying programme.