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For Senegal, it is not just another museum

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Senegal moves to receive returning artefacts as it opens new Museum on December 6

By Nsikan Ikpe

 

In the next few days, Senegal would be commissioning what it terms the biggest museum of black civilization on the continent. Dubbed the Museum of Black Civilisations (MCN), it would very clearly rival Nigeria’s Centre for Black and African Art and Culture, CBAAC and other similar edifices on the continent. And the French-speaking African state has seemingly good reasons to do so.

For many discerning watchers, well managed, West Africa may presently be sitting on the cusp of a real growth surge. And the more discerning nations in the sub-region are casting their nets as far as they can reach in order to sustain some of the very impressive growth statistics that the world is already taking notice of.

For example, in both the IMF and World Bank GDP growth rates projections for the year, African nations take up about six of the ten top spots. They include the West African nations of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal as well as the East African nations of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania.

For Senegal, one of its strong selling areas of focus in this drive are its cultural assets and history. And it is tapping both.

On Tuesday, its culture minister called for the restitution by France of all Senegalese artwork that had been taken out of the country during the infamous colonial encounter that preceded the current era.

Interestingly, the demand for restitution is coming following the release of a French Government-commissioned report urging the return of African art treasures. The Difference could not confirm as at press time if the Senegalese government was represented on that team.

However, the implementation of the recommendations in the report which was reportedly carried out by French and African experts, would have far-reaching implications. It was commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron and even as it has been released, one of the more immediate fall-outs is that it would potentially affect tens of thousands of works acquired during French colonization of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Anticipating the return of the artefacts, the culture minister of the former French colony of Senegal that is primely situated to be one of the star beneficiaries of this ‘rewriting of historical wrongs’ project said his country was ready to work with France to find a solution, but they are looking for complete restitution.

“If you have 10 000 pieces (of art identified from Senegal), we want to have the 10,000,” Abdou Latif Coulibaly said.

Coulibaly made his comments on the fate of the ‘lost treasures’ at a presentation that he gave about Dakar’s new “cultural jewel”, the Museum of Black Civilisations (MCN), which is billed to be inaugurated on December 6.

The museum “has everything you want,” added its director Hamady Bocoum at the news conference called to announce its advent.

It features, among others, vestiges of the first hominids who appeared in Africa several million years ago to the latest contemporary art in collections of paintings and sculpture.

Further, the edifice is being built with a donation of $34.6 million even as its architecture is reportedly inspired by African round huts, and in particular those in the hitherto quite restive Casamance region of southern Senegal.

Notably also, the idea of a museum featuring the civilizations of black Africa is said to have been originally mooted by Senegal’s poet-president Leopold Sedar Senghor during a world festival of black artiststhat took place in Dakar in 1966.

In the past, one of the excuses given by European states for not returning these treasures back to the lands of origin and initial abode is that African states do not have the requisite structures to house and preserve the artefacts. With structures like the new Museum in Dakar, they had better look for new excuses now.

As the new museum comes on stream, Senegal’s co-West African traveller, Nigeria, ought to be taking very particular note. This is on account of what could be called the underlying historical cultural supremacy rivalry between both nations in the sub-region.

For example, coming on the heels of Senegal’s hosting of the First Black and African Arts and Culture Festival in 1966 during the tenure of its poet-president, Leopold Seder Senghor, Nigeria hosted the 2nd episode in 1977. Dubbed ‘Festac ’77,’ the jury is still out as to whether Nigeria did not in that instance, over-reach itself to ‘assert its nominal place as the Black Power’ on more ephemeral terms rather than focus on a more deep-rooted and all-encompassing programme of using the occasion to build enduring and sustainable culture-promoting assets, frameworks and institutions that would stand the test of time.

And further underscoring the point that its own current Museum engagement may be part of a broader engagement to drive multi-faceted economic diversification and advancement growth plans in the country, Senegal’s President, Macky Sall had earlier in the year approved the grant of 2000 hectares of land to the American-Senegalese singer, Akon, to build a futuristic Wakanda-type city in the country.

The Grammy-nominated singer had himself revealed this in June, adding that the city will take after the fictional city made popular by the award-winning film, Black Panther.

He gave the hint while speaking at a panel on Branding Africa: Blockchain, Entrepreneurship and Empowering the Future’ at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, he unveiled his project which is a proposed city named after him Akon Crypto City. The city will be close to the Dakar, Senegal’s capital and will have universities, schools, stadium, homes and developed technology as seen in the film.

It will also have its own currency named AKoin, a crypto-currency product which the singer declares could be “the saviour of Africa in many ways!”

 

Senegalese-American singer, Akon

 

 

 

 

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