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Museum Black Civilizations

The opening of the establishment in Dakar defeats the argument of the lack of suitable infrastructure in Africa, often opposed to requests for the return of works of art.

The Museum of Black Civilisations (MCN) is presented to the press on November 27, 2018 in Dakar ahead of its opening set for December 6, 2018. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

Senegal inaugurates a museum dedicated to “black civilizations” since the dawn of humanity in Dakar on Thursday 6 December, a “pan-African” project that took shape half a century after its launch by the country’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor (1960-1980), at a time when the idea of a return to the continent of its cultural heritage is progressing. Like this Museum of Black Civilization (CMN), the rehabilitation or construction of modern museums across Africa flies in the face of the argument of the lack of adequate infrastructure, often opposed to requests for restitution, that countries like France claim to want to facilitate.
Seven years after the start of work under President Abdoulaye Wade (2000-2012), the ribbon will be cut around 10 am (GMT and local) by his successor Macky Sall.

With monumental architecture inspired in particular by the round boxes of Casamance, a region in southern Senegal, the CMN faces the Grand Theatre, the doors of the administrative district and business of Dakar. With a surface area of 14,000 m2, it will accommodate 18,000 pieces, ranging from the remains of the first hominids, which appeared in Africa several million years ago, to current artistic creations, according to its director, Hamady Bocoum.

«A pan-African project»

Its construction and development were financed by China for more than 30 million euros. Without revealing the objects that will be on display during the opening, Mr Bocoum referred to the presence of skulls, stone tools, paintings, sculptures and other masks. “This is a pan-African project. There will be a facet of every part of Africa,” he said, ensuring that the museum will be able to host works from other less well-endowed countries on the continent.
The opening of the CMN is a “significant contribution to the fabric of museums in West Africa,” said Alain Godonou, a Beninese heritage officer for his country’s new Tourism Promotion Agency, who was interviewed by AFP. This inauguration comes as a report delivered on November 23 to French President Emmanuel Macron, written by two academics, the French Bénédicte Savoy and the Senegalese Felwine Sarr, recommends facilitating the return of works to the former colonies.

An evolution welcomed by Senegalese Minister of Culture, Abdou Latif Coulibaly. If French officials decide to “permanently return [works], we will find ways to recover them,” he said. “If they have decided on another form of restitution, deposit or loan, we are prepared to find solutions with France,” added Coulibaly, saying he is prepared to recover as many as possible, without being able to estimate it.
The CMN “claims the status of a modern museum” where “you can control the temperature and humidity in each room,” Bocoum said. “Benin is also on its way”, with the opening in 2020 of four modern museums in historic cities, said Ousmane Aledji, Chargé de Mission to his country’s Presidency, to which Mr. Macron announced immediately upon submission of the report the return of 26 works claimed by Cotonou.

“Looking Ahead” to the Future

These types of projects “also gut a number of small debates on Africa,” said Aledji, referring to doubts expressed by some experts about the conditions under which these works will be hosted. “If these goods belong to the Africans, what do the Westerners have to do to know whether Africa knows how to keep them or not?” , the rector of the University of Cheikh-Anta-Diop in Dakar, taking his name from a Senegalese intellectual who helped rehabilitate the contribution of black people to world culture, was vehemently questioned.
The question is false, since the answer is already given by the Africans who have produced them and kept them for centuries in excellent conditions outside the museums,” added the Rector of the Senegal’s main university, Ibrahima Thioub.

The idea of a Museum of Black Civilizations was launched by the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, the country’s first president, at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966 in Dakar. Half a century later, the CMN comes into existence and “everyone will be there, demonstrating our openness and ability to say to others, “We exist, but we exist with you and with you”.said the Minister of Culture. The CMN wants to highlight “Africa’s contribution to cultural and scientific heritage,” says Bocoum. But his goal is “above all, to look ahead” to the future. “We will not remain in contemplation,” he promised.