Wednesday, August 4

Experience: museum robbery | Life and Style

I I am a pan-African activist campaigning for reparations for crimes committed against Africans during colonialism. Recently, I’ve taken matters into my own hands: I go to museums that display African artifacts; I tell the truth about how these items were looted and stolen from Africa, and then I take them.

I have been deeply political for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1978 in Kinshasa, the capital of what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My father was a revolutionary and led the 1968 coup that toppled the Congolese government. When I was a child, my mother used to tell me stories about Patrice Lumumba, the father of Congolese independence.

I was 13 years old when I joined a political party: the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). After finishing high school, I began to teach myself more about international relations, law, and African history. I wanted to explore the ties that unite all Africans. Now I am the leader of a pan-African activist group, Unité, Dignité, Courage, an organization that fights for the liberation and transformation of Africa. We believe that the wealth accumulated by Western nations through our works of art should be returned and the goods returned to the African people.

On June 12, I began to implement these plans. I traveled to the Quai Branly museum in Paris with some other activists. A recent report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron found that France has around 90,000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa; more than two-thirds are on Quai Branly. I took a funeral post in Bari in the 19th century; when a king died, the post was placed in front of the grave. It was the only piece that was within our reach; it didn’t weigh much, so it was easy to take.

With the post in my hands, I started speaking at the museum, and on a Facebook live feed, explaining how these objects were taken. A crowd gathered. The police came, but I didn’t know what to do, so they listened to us. After half an hour, they handcuffed us and detained us. Security removed the mail and charges were filed for attempted theft of a registered work of art.

After that, I was on a roll: I took a sword from the MAAOA museum in Marseille and a Congolese religious statue from the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal in the Netherlands, in September. In each case, the police detained us and returned the items to us. In October, I went to the Louvre to take home a 19th century swimming sculpture of Ana Deo from Indonesia. They arrested me and detained me in prison for three days.

After our action on the Quai Branly, I and four others were tried for attempted robbery on September 30. Our lawyers said that we are not thieves, but activists fighting for political causes. The case became a big story in the French press, summarizing the national debate about what to do with the spoils of colonialism.

The charges carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros; I was fined 1,000 euros for aggravated robbery. The judge acknowledged the activist nature of my action, but said he wanted to discourage such tricks. I will appeal against the fine, because I do not think it is my responsibility to pay this: it is for the Quai Branly and the French State.

At the time of writing this article, I am awaiting trial for our other three actions, charged with attempted robbery, in Marseille, the Netherlands and Paris for the act at the Louvre. But, whatever the country, I will continue.

These artifacts belong to me, because I am African and Congolese. But also because I am a descendant of Ntumba Mvemba, one of the royal families who founded the Kingdom of Kongo in 1390. I am a great-grandson of the governor of Mpangu, second in command to the throne and leader of one of the 12 provinces of the Kingdom of Kongo.

People have to understand that if someone steals their inheritance they would react like me now. Many of my ancestors died protecting these items – they were beheaded. They refused to accept these objects being taken and killed them. Your pain is inside of me.

As he told Alexander Durie.

Do you have any experience to share? Send an email to [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *