African Memory in Danger / Mémoire africaine en péril
Anne Mayor, Vincent Négri & Eric Huysecom (éds). 2015.
Francfort: Africa Magna Verlag.
The African continent has been looted for many centuries, the nature, form and motivation varying with conquest, colonization, independence and globalization. Over the last decades, however, the destruction of archaeological sites and the illicit trade in cultural goods has reached such proportions that they seriously undermine African history and goes against human rights by compromising the development of populations. The exportation and repatriation of human remains also raise important ethical questions.
In response to this alarming phenomenon, laws have been passed, conventions ratified, ethical codes proclaimed and ethics commissions established. Local initiatives to protect heritage have been created, and the return of cultural objects and human remains organized. Yet the hoped-for positive benefits do not always materialize given that the situation is more complex than expected.
Not without reason, Switzerland is often criticized, along with other European, North American, Asian or Near East Countries, for acting as a hub of illicit trade of cultural goods. Antique dealers specializing in the “primitive arts”, auction houses, private museums and collectors benefit greatly from this situation. At the same time, Switzerland is very involved in the fields of development and respect for human rights, and acknowledged for the growing awareness and efficiency of its custom, police and justice institutions.
This book, following a conference held in Geneva, includes contributions by archaeologists, sociologists, museum curators and heritage managers, as well as legal experts and representatives of the police, and blends points of view from Africa, Europe and Switzerland. Apart the voice of researchers responsible for the cultural heritage of African Countries that denounce alarming situations, ethical reflections and update of legal aspects linked to heritage questions, several projects of international cooperation are presented, all of them trying to find innovative ways of acting in this very difficult context, and giving hope for the future.