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Abstract

Writing in early 2013, Elizabeth A. Klesmith explores the challenges of African nations in protecting their cultural heritage in the post-colonization era. She identifies two major challenges to the preservation of African cultural heritage: the multi-billion dollar global trade in illicit heritage and, in certain parts of Africa, the threat of destruction of cultural treasures during bouts of sectarian violence. Klesmith discusses these challenges utilizing case studies concerning the cultural treasures of Nigeria and Mali. In the case of Nigeria, the country is striving to reacquire artifacts looted from the Benin Kingdom in the late nineteenth century and recently purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. At the time of this writing, the nation of Mali was at the height of sectarian violence that resulted in the destruction of thousands of cultural artifacts and manuscripts and threatened further destruction.

Arguing that it is essential for post-colonial African nations to retain and protect their cultural antiquities, Klesmith surveys the landscape of international law regarding cultural antiquities. She then give examples of past attempts at repatriating or protecting cultural artifacts, some successful (Cyprus, Colombia, Turkey) and some unsuccessful (Afghanistan, Peru). Ultimately, Klesmith concludes Nigeria and Mali have the right to the repatriation and protection of their cultural heritage, and the international community has an obligation under existing law to support their efforts.

 

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