What are the reasons why Europe does not want to return the over 400,000 pieces of stolen African art?

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In its relationship with Africa, even after slavery and the slave trade, Europe has provably been moved by a certain paternalism, anchored to some sense of incorrigibility.

It is quite banal to point out the ways in which this attitude plays out. Whether it is Germany’s diplomatic contortionism about what it did in southern Africa or Emmanuel Macron telling the world Africa’s problems are due to its defective civilisation, Europeans have done it all.

Even when the TV presenter, Jeremy Paxman, went globetrotting on behalf of the BBC to discuss how the British empire had shaped the modern day, he was visibly worried that not more people were willing to say colonisation did “some good”.

But where this uniquely European posture plays out, more than other places, is in the matter of who has the right to those artifacts that were looted out of Africa.

During the heydays of European exploitation, its superpowers took what is on African land as European possessions. And so were the things that came from African minds and hands.


From the 19th century, what began as souvenir collection soon turned into ownership by force. Hundreds of thousands of concrete symbolisations of the African way of life were taken.

There is even a less-discussed angle to the debate about how the deconsecration of many of the symbols fed into the distortion of the African identity.




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