Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Contrast in Protection of Cultural Property: Mali and Nigeria

The security of African cultural heritage continued to take on political significance over the past week. Events in Nigeria stood in stark contrast to the destruction of monuments and manuscripts in Mali. Nigeria has a history of looting and consequent efforts to repatriate cultural patrimony. Over the past week, the efforts continued in two separate instances. In both cases the preservation of cultural property was a subject in African affairs, and both cases involved France.
The first report indicated that objects, which were seized by France’s Directorate-General for Customs and Indirect Duties in 2010, would be returned to Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). While in the possession of France, the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Quai Branly and Louvre museums enabled the determination of the origin of the artifacts. In this case, France not only honored the interests of Nigeria through the repatriation but also invested in understanding the cultural significance of the artifacts.
The second report indicated that the French Ambassador, Jacques Champagne De Labriolle announced the expected return of soapstone statuette of Esie origin. Nigeria’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, High Chief Edem Duke elaborated on the collaboration of France and Nigeria under the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, which complement one another in countering the illicit trade in cultural property. The French Ambassador also commented on coordination between the French Customs and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to return seized artifacts to Nigeria and in general to cooperate with source nations to counter trafficking in cultural property.
In two separate articles, Nigeria announced increased efforts to protect antiquities and cultural heritage sites in the nation. The NCMM appealed to communities to protect cultural patrimony in the interest of future generations. Director-General Usman in particular urged traditional rulers to ensure the preservation of cultural identity through the safeguarding of antiquities. The Director-General backed up the appeal with announcement to employ “600 security personnel and craftsmen to monitor” cultural heritage sites.
The close geographic proximity of Mali and Nigeria emphasizes the contrast in effects of foreign cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage. Despite that France and Mali are both States Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention, military intervention in Mali had the unfortunate coincidence of additional destruction of cultural property. In contrast, repatriation of cultural artifacts to Nigeria honored the 1970 UNESCO Convention and complemented local initiatives to preserve cultural patrimony.

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