Photograph — CNN

The Dutch government has returned an 18th-century ceremonial crown belonging to the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Cheleqot, Ethiopia. The religious artifact was returned on the 20th of February 2020 after it went missing over 21 years ago.

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed officially received it during the handover ceremony and expressed gratitude to the Dutch government for giving back the “precious crown.” Also present at the event was Sirak Asfaw and Netherlands foreign trade and development cooperation minister, Sigrid Kaag.  

Sirak Asfaw, who is a Dutch with Ethiopian origin that migrated to the Netherlands in 1970, claimed he found the crown in a suitcase left behind by a guest in his house and kept it in his custody 21 years since 1998.

In a video that was posted in October 2019, Asfaw said that he didn’t want to return the ‘’looted heritage to the same regime like the one during which it was stolen…That is why I have waited for 21 years and have safeguarded it all those years.”

To ensure the Ethiopian government got full custody of the crown, Asfaw approached the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inform them that he was in possession of the crown. This was in order to prevent a similar outcome to the case between Nigeria and Jesus College, Cambridge over the precious Okukor statue.

He also solicited with art detective Arthur Brand on returning this important piece of work to Ethiopia.

‘’We’re honored and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return. This is the crowning achievement of returning this heritage to its rightful place ” Kaag said

Over the years, western countries have started to prioritize the return of looted African artifacts, particularly during colonization.

The French government has shown a commitment to sub-Saharan Africa in recovering its history. In November 2019, a sword owned by Omar Saidou Tall, an Islamic scholar, and ruler from Senegal was returned to the country’s government. 

Also, French president, Emmanuel Macron ordered the return of 26 artifacts looted from the Republic of Benin during the colonial era.

Last year the German government announced the return of a 500-year-old monument which is a 3.5-meter high navigation landmark to Namibia after several years of dis/play at the  German Historical Museum in Berlin. The history of the monument dates back to 1498 when it was first placed on Namibia’s coast. However, it was taken to Germany in 1893 after the area became a German Imperial protectorate.

Africans within and outside the continent have become more concerned about returning looted artifacts to their origin as opposed to being placed in foreign facilities or museums abroad. 

This has led to the creation of organizations that support the recovering of looted African treasure. An example is the Benin dialogue group, a Nigerian body which aims to establish a museum in Benin City that will facilitate a permanent display reuniting Benin works of art dispersed in collections around the world. The groups also advocate for the return of looted African artifacts.

A huge setback for Africa in retrieving these priceless items are some foreign laws that prohibit the removal of these artifacts. For instance, in Britain, The British Museum Act of 1963 prohibits an institution from disposing of objects in its collection except in very limited circumstances, meaning any effort to repatriate objects would require government action.

Similarly, French law considers national museums “inalienable,” prohibiting their removal, while other museums and countries have different legal frameworks and processes for dealing with their treasures. 

As Africa moves to recover its artifacts, the continent can also leverage on international bodies to support this cause by creating favourable policies and even sanctions that can motivate nations to return these precious items

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