Ethiopia calls for reinstatement of stolen African art

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African artefacts looted or inadvertently taken away from Africa by colonialists and invaders of the continent must be repatriated, Ethiopian newspapers suggested this week.

The return of these stolen items is essential to heal and garner national awareness of Africa’s culture and history, says the weekly Sub-Saharan Informer.

Arguing that the return of historical and archaeological relics as well as other works of art is not negotiable, the paper stresses: “This applies to all the countless artefacts and manuscripts that continue to remain in the possession of private collectors and museums who have no moral right to possess them.

“No matter the reputation of the possessor of these stolen items, the items remain stolen property and should be repatriated to its rightful owner.”

The focus of the Ethiopian papers was the Axum Obelisk, the 160-tonne and 24-met re stone pillar that was curved by Ethiopians 1,700 years ago and looted by Italian fascist invaders in 1937 at the order of Benito Mussolini.

For years, the obelisk was a landmark in the city of Rome until its return to Axum, a small town in Tigray Regional State of northern Ethiopia, in April 2005.

“Through collective efforts our nation is proud to have finally achieved what at various moments in the last 67 years had seemed impossible,” writes the weekly business tabloid Capital after the official rededication of the Obelisk at its original location 5 September 2008.

Having the Obelisk once again gracing their landscape at this time is a momentous event for the Ethiopians as they celebrate the end of the first year of the third millennium and ring in 2003, according to the Ethiopian calendar, 11 September 2008 (Gregorian calendar).

“That historic and much travelled monolith shall serve as a stout reminder that having brought it back to its original spot, we collectively embrace a vision to build a nation that would be a worthy home,” adds the Capital.

Commenting on the same issue, The Ethiopian Herald says the Obelisk festivity and other celebrations staged throughout the year to mark the new Ethiopian millennium, symbolised the peoples’ true identity and, therefore, must be preserved for posterity.

“As such, they also signify metaphorically the determinations of the peoples of Ethiopia to renounce decadence and neglect, and revive their ancient civilisations in away that befits our contemporary world.

“The Axum obelisks epitomise the aspirations of their builders, our ancestors, who hoped to transmit these aspirations and wills to us, their descendants, in an internal form, built in stone on the strongest foundation.”

The government-run daily recalls that the government of Emperor Haile Selassie initiated negotiations with Italy for the return of the obelisk to Ethiopia in 1956.

Attempts to come to an agreement dragged on for 50 years and involved historians, researchers, diplomats and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), among others.

Ethiopia still demands possession of several ancient artworks that were taken from the country to European galleries without its consent. These include writings and crafts that immortalise the nation’s culture and history for future generations.

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