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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Should Africa reclaim its stolen treasures?
Ethiopia's Axum Obelisk
The Obelisk was taken away by Italians in 1937

Ethiopia successfully fought for the return of one of its national religious treasure, the Axum Obelisk.

The 1,700-year old stone obelisk looted by Italy nearly 70 years ago arrived in Addis Ababa last month to a rapturous welcome.

Thousands of people lined the streets to see what they consider an important symbol of their identity restored to them.

Two years ago a German museum handed back to Zimbabwe a soapstone carved bird after 100 years.

The Zimbabwe bird is an emblem of the country, appearing on the national flag and currency.

The Ethiopian Obelisk and the Zimbabwe bird are just two of the many traditional and sacred objects that vanished from Africa and ended up in museums, learning institutions or private homes abroad during the colonial era.

The BBC's Africa Live asks: How important are historic artefacts to your sense of identity?

What should your government do to reclaim your country's lost treasures?

Or should we stop dwelling on the past and concentrate on sorting out the problems of the present?

Send us your comments using the form on the right - a selection of which will be published below.

And you can join the debate on the BBC Africa Live on Wednesday 18 May at 1630GMT and 1830GMT.


Museums are fun to visit when all the other elements of a quality life are firmly in place.
Ed Magana, USA

With so many survival issues to contend with, Africa really has little time to preserve and maintain her historic treasures. Leaving them where they are ensures a reminder to the West that we are alive and well and have a rich history. How many African budgets can truly be devoted to maintaining such elements of art. Can we really trust our insecure and corrupt governments to provide the necessary protection? Our immediate priority should be fighting poverty. We still lack basic stuff like food, medical facilities, good roads, jobs, good education and security. Museums are fun to visit when all the other elements of a quality life are firmly in place.
Ed Magana, USA

We Africans, especially Ethiopians, must think about the present not our past history. Everybody in the world knows Ethiopians and their famine problem. If Ethiopian government left the Axum obelisk in Rome, the Italians would always remember us and feel ashamed. After all, we beat them. The obelisk should have remained in Italy rather than bringing it here where there is no good care of treasure.
Henok, Ethiopia

Culture, civilisation and history have demographic implications. They set distinct identity and shape culture. An artefact being a derivative of a particular culture, enriches that particular culture. In some cases when the artefact attains a global fame it transcends its regional boundary.
Fantahun A Worku, USA

To see a historical and priceless artifact in a country other than its origin, displayed for view to the people of that country is an implication of an act of plunder or acquisition that occurred in the past and is still acknowledged in the present.
Abdulhussain Haamid, Skellefteċ, Sweden

Why must Africans divert their attention to something less meaningful?
King Anderson Emmy Snr.

I do not understand what the fuss is all about stolen treasures. Why must Africans divert their attention to something less meaningful? We must focus on development and civilisation even if those things were returned and we lack the means to protect or maintain them they will still get lost again may be this time never to be seen again.
King Anderson Emmy Snr.

For me it is very hard to understand why some countries keep these African treasures. Is it to remind themselves that they were dominant or had a hidden intent over future colonisation? Italy gave up the Axum Obelisk not because it liked to do that but the monument had been more of embarrassment over their defeat by the Ethiopians in Adowa. Had the Italians been victorious over Ethiopia in their colonisation attempt, they would have made the obelisk part of the Mussoloni's tomb.
Mesfin, USA

Walking through the Louvre museum in Paris, I was amazed at the beauty of its collection, some of which was brought to France by enterprising individuals such as Napoleon. Do these artifacts now belong to the French government? Have the French succeeded in gaining the permission of modern nations for keeping these artifacts?
Andrea, Canada

Look how Britain is guarding Kohinoor diamond. If it was in India, it would have long gone underground and would be in the possession of a rich and uncaring antiques collector.
Shantanu, India

Would the artefacts have survived if not removed from Africa?
LB, Australia

Two factors need to be articulated in this question: Would the artefacts have survived if not removed from Africa? And with the corruption and poverty, would most of Africa afford to keep delicate items secure? Perhaps the answer is yes, but for now, maybe the world's museums should be "caretakers" for Africa. At least the art works are safe, secure and under significant lock and key.
LB, Australia

Why is the world becoming so politically correct ? Personally I feel that the more developed countries should keep the treasures in trust until African countries can prove they can look after themselves, otherwise they'll be at risk of destruction and everyone in the world would loose out.
Mark Smith, New Zealand

It infuriates me when people take Africans for fools. There is a saying that Africa is the cradle of civilisation, yet we have nothing to show or proof for it. The legacies that our forefathers left us were stolen. We walk around blind because we do not remember where we came from so we have no idea where we are going.
Uti, USA

One must consider where these objects can be best viewed by the maximum number of people.
Dave Jones, UK

Perhaps we should give back some of the treasures which were taken. It needs to be done carefully though, for the following reasons: Do you in Africa have modern secure museums to display these artifacts? These things are important cultural objects for all humanity and not just for one culture - one must consider where these objects can be best viewed by the maximum number of people. Aren't you opening a pandora's box here - should the Louvre museum in France give back the Mona Lisa painted by an Italian? By having these objects in other countries it enables them to see and develop an interest in other cultures - which should promote greater understanding in the world.
Dave Jones, UK

Africa is like a continent with no history because a lot has been stolen, we need to give them back. It's difficult to identify all stolen treasures but we can give back through Development Aid. There has been a lot of untold miseries the West have done to Africa e.g. slavery and colonialism.
Kenneth Kachimanga, Denmark

I believe the right thing to do is to return the "stolen" goods. Having said that, I believe that such historical artefacts and heritage must be preserved for subsequent generations to appreciate, so it is incumbent that the rightful owners have a system in place so that the items can be well-cared-for. Just asking for the items back and then "losing" them again would just be unfair.
Salman A, Asian from Africa living in UK

For now I think that these treasures should remain in the care of the West.
Larry, USA

Yes, Africa should get their treasures back but only after most African nations improve their governments and economies. Look what happened after the Iraqi liberation, thousands of priceless antiques were looted or destroyed. So for now I think that these treasures should remain in the care of the West.
Larry, USA

We the people of Africa, of all the things, need our conscience back. Our continent was robbed and raped in broad daylight by the Western imperialists on a massive proportion. They stole away from us not only our treasures but also our very own spirit, our roots and identity as as a people. Our heritage is indispensable, and there is no price tag to assign it. We ask back what is rightfully ours!
Michael Kimpur, Kenyan in USA

We wouldn't have known the value of these things if they weren't taken away. How well are Africans taking care of the ones not stolen from them? Go to historical places and our museums and you will have the answer!
Siegfried Gbadago, Ghana

The current rulers of Africa have proven that they are incapable of even feeding and providing the most basic forms of education for their poor. Why should historical treasures be placed under the responsibility of individuals who have proved time and again how unfit they are to govern?
Neil, UK

We should stop dwelling on the past no matter how treasured it may be, particularly in the current computer age! Today, Africa is engulfed with problems of all kinds and our deepest concern should and must be how best the West can come to the aid of the Africans to fight these problems.
Joe Noutoua Wandah, A Liberian in Ghana

Many African artefacts and treasures are symbols of Africa's rich heritage and traditions and cultures. British and France are the leading looters of many Africa heritage symbols and treasures. African governments should go after their stolen treasures in many European museums and advocate for their return.
Yussuf Dayib Ali, Kenya

Having seen the terrible state of many museums in India, and since we are talking about African States with their problems of instability and corruption, just like India, it's highly debatable whether there would be any benefit of returning these items. There is a chance they would just be stolen, lost or damaged.
Jai Singh, UK

We should stop dwelling on the past and concentrate on sorting out the problems of the present.
Darius Ndyomugyenyi, Uganda

Both physical and mental treasures were stolen from our beautiful continent Africa. However, we should stop dwelling on the past and concentrate on sorting out the problems of the present. Governments should start implementing their developmental talking by using what was left and is available.
Darius Ndyomugyenyi, Uganda

Though I would like to see artifacts return to Africa, I would say there must be re-assurances that they would be properly taken care of. Look at Egypt, its museum is almost falling apart due to lack of funding and refuses the aid of any Western influence.
Alexander Winchester, UK

It is about time that the looters start a move in returning whatever they looted to whom they belong. The cost of returning those treasures should be borne by those who illegally acquired them.
Berhe, UK

On this point I would go further to say that the countries that have stolen these treasures should also be liable to pay damages for the loss of revenue as a result of these items being absent from the countries of origin, and this could go towards ensuring the artefacts are taken good care of.
Nana Kwansah, London, UK

In as much as we need our treasurers for our identity we may as well look at the resources needed to bring these artefacts back home. We may need to use those resources for national development. Africa has a lot of issues that need to be addressed first before we reclaim what is ours. The foreign exchange used to bring the Obelisk to Addis Ababa could have been used to feed many hungry Africans.
Jamaica Tongowona, Zimbabwe

National organisations should be formed to follow up and advocate for the return of Africa's historic treasures.
Admasu Tachble, Ethiopian Canadian

Our artefacts are ourselves and one needs not ask how important they are. Our governments are not to be entrusted with this kind of responsibility. I believe national organisations should be formed to follow up and advocate for the return of Africa's historic treasures both at the local and international levels. We firmly stand on the past in order to see the present and work towards the future.
Admasu Tachble, Ethiopian Canadian

For a continent whose historical heritage has been questioned by some historians as not having a civilisation, these treasures constitute part of its civilisation. They should be returned.
Che Sunday

What makes a nation, apart from the physical boundaries is its distinct culture, past history and the people. Governments should do their best to try and get back those national treasures stolen, pillaged or taken as war booty from their country; side by side to tackling problems at present. I can not tell you how delighted I am to see the Axum obelisk back in my country. I hope the British government will follow suit and return the many artefacts and religious icons which are on display at the British museum and other places such as the Edinburgh University.
Dereje Workie, Glasgow

Do you think the Italians have given the treasurer to the Ethiopians because they wanted to? I strongly believe that they returned the treasure because they do not want to take the blame if the obelisk crumble one day. Because of the environment and other factors, the obelisk becomes softer and easily brittle. For the last decade it was hit by lightening twice. So the only choice the Italians had was to get rid off it.
Kinfegebriel Mengistie, USA

All African treasures should be returned. They are Africans' sense of pride and future tourists attraction for Africa. Ethiopian Government needs a vigorous diplomatic effort to reclaim all artefacts and manuscripts. It is right and an honour for the European countries to return the treasures to the owners.
Abate Tegegne, UK

If I can't identify myself with my country, then who am I?
TY, USA

Historical treasures such as the obelisk are historical reference points of my country. If I can't identify myself with my country, then who am I? Imagine how you feel when you find out that someone has stolen your identity and has destroyed your credit.
TY, USA

The restitution must continue by all means. This is the beginning, the British Government has a moral and historical obligation to return all Ethiopia's heritages including the body of Prince Alemayehu Theodros that were looted by its predecessors.
Theodros Arega, Sweden

How would it feel if Eiffel Tower were stolen from Paris and erected somewhere on a South Pacific island? The Axum obelisk, which was standing in the heart of Rome after it was stolen from Ethiopia about 70 years ago, represented a gross cultural displacement. Handing over the towering cultural icon to Ethiopia symbolises the emergence of an Italian generation which can no longer take pride in looted treasures. Likewise, sending back all treasures to their rightful owners makes the world a better home. Later on, we can talk about cultural exchanges, like when the French gave the Americans a much-valued gift: the Statue of Liberty.
Zegashaw, USA

Why is it that most Europeans and American Art have to be protected? Even when they are stolen, you cannot find them in the market. But, our African arts are easily found in museums around the world, and nobody ever asks why and how they found their way abroad.
Mudila M. USA

The British Museum has mummies from Egypt. Are they going back?
Kiwanuka Nsereko, Ugandan in USA

To think of the future without looking at the past is treating the symptom and ignoring the cause. The question that is tough to answer is what can be returned? Are the Diamonds in the royal crown in Brussels from the Congo? Were they paid for or robbed? How do we get back the slaves, our people? The British Museum has mummies from Egypt. Are they going back? This is not a cut and dry question and answer situation! Forgive Africa all its debts and we will forget all the past and have a new slate. Kiwanuka Nsereko
Kiwanuka Nsereko, Ugandan in USA

Yes, I believe that African countries deserve the right to get their stolen treasures back. These treasures were STOLEN, and the last time I checked stealing is a criminal act, so European countries need to do the right thing and return the stolen artifacts to all African countries. Furthermore, African governments need to pursue avenues to reclaim their stolen treasures.
Boma , USA

More than physical treasures have been stolen. Our history has been vandalised, stolen and re-imaged. So why bother to cry about lesser things?
Joseph Opigo, Nigeria

Every government should set up a committee of experts to trace all historic artifacts.
Omorodion Osula, USA

Historic artifacts are a very important part of culture and identity of a particular group. The Edo people in Nigeria are well known for Bronze casting and carving. Generations will grow up to appreciate and learn about the significance of these artifacts. Every government should set up a committee of experts to trace all historic artifacts and ensure that they are returned to their country of origin. The past is very important. That is why we study history as a subject. The past is not a hindrance to solving present day issues.
Omorodion Osula, USA

Africa itself is not immune from this ugly stigma of looting. Ethiopia reclaiming its looted treasure from its former coloniser Italy is good enough, but Ethiopia has also to allow Eritrea reclaim its historical artefacts that are now on display in the national museum in Addis Ababa. Otherwise, it's a case of a kettle calling the pot black!
Yohannes, Eritrea

Yes, of course, all African nations should get their national treasures back. Then they may do what all other countries do, rent them out to other countries' national museums to make a few bucks for their own economy, to raise awareness of their culture and their country.
Marie, US

Most of these historic artefacts were looted during colonisation or foreign occupation as was the case in Ethiopia. They have deeper meaning in their homeland than where they are and therefore should return where they belong.
Ethiopia

A treasure is a country's legacy; a great reminder of the past; could be used as a great unifying factor for the present. The African past is part and parcel of the present; every stolen treasure should be returned to its rightful owners where they belong. It is a stolen legacy and I think justice has to be done accordingly.
Dawit Yehualashet Goshen, USA.

Did you see the Axum Obelisk in Rome? For once it was situated in the middle of a busy street and had not any historical caption or information under it. For somebody without the slightest knowledge, they might deduce the Italians built it themselves!
Italy

We are spiritually anchored to most of these artefacts. Without them we feel incomplete.
Abisha Mapendembe, Zimbabwean in UK

Historical artefacts are crucial to our sense of identity as Africans. We are spiritually anchored to most of these artefacts. Without them we feel incomplete. Moreover, the fact that these historic artefacts were stolen from Africa means they need to be returned to their rightful owners. As Africans we need our historic artefacts back while at the same time trying to find solutions to curb our number one enemy: Poverty.
Abisha Mapendembe, Zimbabwean in UK

Present African problems have nothing to do with stolen historical artifacts. Why would you mix the two in the first place? No doubt that Africa needs to do a lot more to solve the challenges it finds itself entangled with right now, but the issue here is to return what has been stolen from you in the first place!
Helen, Italy

To be frank, any third world government can do little by itself. We need support from countries like UK & Italy. As the present Italian government handles the return of Axum, we need the same from the UK.
Mulugeta E. Ethiopia

By the way who foots the cost transporting back these artifacts?
Joseph Riwongole , Kapenguria, Kenya

There is no doubt on the importance of these historic artifacts to its people. They show us the skills and techniques that our forefathers had developed. Our governments should therefore make the necessary arrangements to see to it that whatever was stolen from the continent be returned to their respective countries. By the way who foots the cost transporting back these artifacts?
Joseph Riwongole , Kapenguria, Kenya

To some extent, taking an artifact from a nation and putting it in another's museum is not much different than breaking into someone's home, stealing a family picture and putting it in your home for display. Quite frankly it does not belong to you and it really does not mean anything to you.
Bazin Makonnen, USA




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