China Continues To Support Africa’s Efforts To Retrieve Cultural Artifacts

According to the French government-commissioned 2018 report by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy, up to 90% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s material cultural legacy is outside of the continent. Like the French did to the Toucouleur empire in 1890, colonialism in Africa saw the raiding of thousands of pieces of significant cultural heritage and artifacts. 

African countries have strived to reclaim these artifacts from mostly European museums. The museums claim they’re reluctant to return the items until there are proper venues to store them. A Quartz article revealed that “the best-case scenario figure for the number of artifacts any national museum archives in Sub Saharan Africa is 3,000—and even then, most of them are of little importance or significance when compared to those in European museums.” 

China has over the years shown some level of interest in Africa’s efforts to reclaim its cultural heritage. President Macky Sall in 2018 inaugurated Senegal’s new Museum of Black Civilisations in the capital, Dakar. The $34m museum was funded by China. Built in a circular shape, the architecture was inspired by traditional homes typical to southern Senegal.

Recently, Wu Pena, China’s top diplomat for Sub-Saharan Africa tweeted that “According to UNESCO, 90-95% of sub-Saharan cultural artifacts are housed outside Africa. China can feel more than ordinary sympathy as a fellow sufferer: a plundered piece of the bronze statue of horse head was returned to its rightful place in Yuanmingyuan after 160 years.”

Commenting on Wu Peng’s Tweet, Eric Orlender of the China-Africa Project said “Beijing clearly sees this issue as an opportunity to reinforce its oft-repeated talking point that both China and Africa were the victims of European colonialism and are “fellow sufferers.”

As we previously reported, African artifacts are gradually returning home thanks to Chinese investments.

China’s relations with Africa is said to have been built on South-South Allegiance and consolidated by a claimed mutual historical narrative of imperialism. 

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