By Yunus S Saliu
After a lengthy and very interesting debate in which all National Assembly Members present contributed, the National Assembly of The Gambia unanimously ratified the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Prohibition of Illicit Import, and Export of Cultural Properties at the Third Ordinary Session of The 2023 Legislative Year, held on 12th September 2023 at the Gambia Parliament House, Banjul.
Introducing the motion for ratification on behalf of the Honorable Minister for Tourism and Culture, the Minister of Justice Hon Dawda Jallow said The Gambia, like many African countries, has a significant number of cultural objects in Western museums.
He said before and during the colonial period, the European powers illegally removed cultural properties from the country, citing examples such as the British looted the jujus, firearms, and ostrich of Musa Molloh the King of Fulladu when they arrested and exiled him in 1919.
He also cited how war drums or tabala of Foday Sillah, Emir of the Islamic State of Kombo when he was arrested by the British and exiled to Senegal in 1893. “Such looting and illicit removal of cultural artifacts was indeed part and parcel of colonial oppressions against The Gambia,” the Minister explained and added that in one museum in French, 35 Cultural Objects from The Gambia have been found there in their catalogue.
Minster Jallow stressed that the NAMs of many countries in West Africa have ratified the 1970 Convention and are already getting back their cultural objects from European museums.
For example, he said, recently France restituted the sword of Muslim reformer Sheikh Omar Futi Taal who died in 1864. He, therefore, advised the NAMs to ratify the Convention so that The Gambia could start to use diplomatic and legal means to get back her stolen cultural properties.
The Minister reminded the NAMs that restitution imposed certain obligations which is why the government is currently building the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawarah Museum in Banjul where restituted objects can be put on display in optimal conditions. He went on that with the ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention Secretariat in Paris, and the ECOWAS will avail The Gambia with support of capacity building to enable heritage staff at the NCAC to handle restituted objects.
Furthermore, the Minister explained that ECOWAS had sent an advocacy mission in 2021 which met and discussed with stakeholders about the 1970 Convention.
However, Hassoum Ceesay, the Director General of the National Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC) expressed delight at The Gambia’s Ratification of the UNSECO 1970 Convention.
Expressing satisfaction on this, DG Ceesay said “Once again the NAMs have shown their strong support and commitment to the Arts and Culture by this Ratification, the unanimity of the NAMs who all supported the ratification shows their cultural patriotism. We appreciate their efforts.”
Present at the National Assembly for the Ratification were the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Director General for National Center for Arts and Culture, and FatouMass Jobe member of the ECOWAS Restitution Committee.