A visitor looks at the wooden and metal throne of the King Ghezo of the Dahomey kingdom, dated 19th century, today's Benin at Quai Branly museum in Paris, France. OFS announced a R221 457 600 initiative to support the restitution of looted African artefacts. File photo: AP Photo/Michel Euler.

CAPE TOWN - The Open Society Foundations (OSF), on Wednesday announced a USD$15-million (R221 457 600) initiative to support the restitution of looted African artefacts. 

OSF said that over the next four years, the initiative would support networks and organisations working to return African artefacts, which reflect the continent's cultural heritage, to their rightful home.  

“The legacy of colonial violence has deep implications for the ways that racism and imbalances of power are perpetuated today. This isn’t just about returning pieces of art, but about restoring the very essence of these cultures,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of OSF.  “We are proud to support this movement towards reconciling historical wrongs as part of our mission to advance true justice.”

For decades, Africans have advocated for the return of not only art and ceremonial objects, but also human remains, natural history specimens, archives, and intangible cultural heritage like sound recordings and photographs. Entire collections have been made from material looted during military raids and atrocities at Maqdala and in Namibia and Nigeria, among others.

“With so much of Africa’s precolonial cultural legacy housed in European museums, these artefacts are out of reach for millions on the African continent, who have a right to their own knowledge and cultural production,” said Rashida Bumbray, director of culture and art at OSF. 

“Restitution is not only about rightsizing the past, but about access to one’s own heritage and a necessity to maintain this connection for future generations.”

Civil society funder said it would support ongoing research and initiatives addressing the restitution of African cultural heritage, including the recommendations of a report published last year by Felwine Sarr, the economist and chair of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, and art historian Bénédicte Savoy. The report calls for the full restitution of works in French museum collections that were plundered from former African colonies.

Partnering with museums, governments, artists, academics, and civil society, the initiative will involve colleagues from across the OSF, led by Bumbray, Anthony Richter, director of special initiatives, and Ayisha Osori, director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. 

African News Agency (ANA)