DRC to call for return of art from Belgium’s Africa Museum
The reopening of Belgium’s Africa Museum, a former colonial institution holding one of the largest collections of African art, has led to calls by the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many of its artefacts to be returned.
Joseph Kabila, who has been in power in the DRC since his father’s assassination in 2001, said he was seeking to bring back art and documents so they could be held in a new Congolese national museum being funded by the South Korean government.
Belgium’s Africa Museum is located on the outskirts of Brussels, near the site where a “human zoo” of 267 Congolese men, women and children was staged on the orders of King Leopold in 1897. It has been closed for five years for a €75m (£67m) renovation and “decolonisation” process.
The institution was due to reopen today in the presence of Belgian and Congolese dignitaries, to tell the story of Africa and its colonisation through the eyes of Africans, with a “very critical” view of the racist and cruel Belgian regime in Congo.
In an interview with the Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir, Kabila said he would be seeking restitution of works and documents next year. “We are waiting for the end of the works and the opening of our own museum, in partnership with South Korea,” Kabila told the paper. “We will also rehabilitate our museum in Lubumbashi. The request for restitution will obviously be on the table. One month before the end of the work, which is scheduled for June, there will be an official request.”
Initially called the Museum of the Congo and more recently known as the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium’s newly renamed Africa Museum has been radically remodelled after nearly a century in which its permanent exhibition barely changed.
Guido Gryseels, the director general at the museum, who has been masterminding the changes, said he was open to the return of works.
“If Congo asks for the return of some objects, I am certainly willing to consider that. It is not normal that 80% of the African cultural heritage is in Europe. It is basically their culture, their identity, their history. We need to have a very open attitude. The question is under what conditions. How do we define what was legally acquired and what was not legally acquired?”
▲ President Joseph Kabila is seeking the restitution of Congolese artefacts