In consultation with the Congolese authorities, Belgium is prepared to investigate the return of all goods and works of art from the colonial period, which are now in possession of federal institutions. That is what State Secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine (PS) said on the first day of his visit to Congo. Among other things, he visited the new national museum in the Congolese capital.
At the beginning of July, Dermine presented an innovative approach to the return of looted Congolese art. It is currently still in the study phase, which should clarify the origin of the objects and art, whether stolen or not. Potentially, it involves thousands of pieces that will return in the coming years.
There is already an agreement on this framework within Vivaldi, but it still has to be translated into a bill. It may be approved before the end of this year. Dermine says that his country is far ahead of other western countries with a colonial past, such as France and the United Kingdom.
At this time, Dermine does not exclude any returns of items now in possession of any of the Federal Institutions. This primarily concerns the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, but also the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels.
The Congolese authorities have been told that a refund will be made in consultation and without haste. A Belgian-Congolese commission will be established for this purpose. The Belgian approach consists in that the Congolese government already becomes the legal owner of the stolen items, but that these items remain in Belgium until the Congolese consider that the necessary conditions have been met to give the works a place. That is why scientific cooperation is being strengthened to ensure that the necessary know-how is also present in Congo in the long term.
The AfricaMuseum’s collection includes more than 130,000 pieces, 85 percent of which come from Congo. The vast majority are objects from everyday life. According to the museum, 1 percent of that came from looting, and 58 percent got their hands on it legitimately. The study continues to the rest of the objects. AfricaMuseum director Guido Gryseels estimated the cost of this study over the next four years at 2.5 million euros.
After the bill has been approved, talks will start with the Congolese authorities. Who the interlocutors will be and under which modalities still need to be discussed. Tonight, Dermine already took part in a round table on the subject, which also included the Congolese Minister of Culture.