Mr Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza is an activist with a rising profile who gained notoriety for his stance supporting the repatriation of African artifacts obtained during the French colonial era from French museums and back to their countries of origin. Born in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, he has a long history of activism and describes himself on his Instagram page as a “Defender of the African family”. Mr Diyabanza was arrested on October 22nd, 2020, for attempting to steal an artifact from the Louvre. He has a previous arrest for a similar incident that took place earlier in that same year, at the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris. In both cases, he received fines for his actions.
Mr. Diyabanza’s story highlights the growing French popularity on questions regarding the return of artifacts taken from various countries during France’s colonial era. Apart from the moral argument brought on by the subject, one may also consider economic motivation when reviewing the topic. As, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), European revenue from Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) in 2015 accounted for 709 billion United States Dollars, 3% of the total European Gross Domestic Product (GDP). More specifically, a 2019 report by Earnest and Young called L’économie Mosaïque, stated that revenue from French museums grew by 15% between 2013 – 2018 to 542 million euros in 2018. In addition to this, French museums employed more than 21 000 individuals in 2018. Conversely, UNESCO placed African revenue from CCI in 2015 at 58 billion united states dollars, 1.1% of the total GDP in Africa. They represent the importance of CCI revenue to a country’s economy and not only its culture.
In 2018, a report called the ‘The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage’ was commissioned by French President Mr. Emmanuel Macron investigated the possibility to make policy revisions to the French government’s stance on the repatriation of African artifacts secured during its colonial past. The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage report concluded with a recommendation to the French government to reformulate cultural heritage policies to include the return of looted African artworks. Resulting in a deadline of 2021 was set to commence the process of repatriation, starting with 26 artifacts originally belonging to the country Benin from France. If the recommendation and the deadline were both upheld, it would mark a shift in French cultural heritage policies with regards to the repatriation of art.
By Sibongile Mukupa, student in the Bachelor of Business Administration and Economics, University of Roma Tor Vergata