NAMs Ratify 1970 UNESCO Convention

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By Ndey Sowe

Members of the National Assembly have on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 at the National Assembly in Banjul, ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Prohibition of Illicit Import and Export of Cultural Properties.

Introducing the motion for ratification on behalf of the Minister for Tourism and Culture, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow said The Gambia, like many other African countries, has a significant number of cultural objects in Western museums. He said before and during the colonial period, Europeans illegally removed cultural properties from the country, citing the British’s looting of the jujus, firearms and ostrich of Musa Molloh, the former King of Fulladu, when they arrested and exiled him in 1919. He also cited how the war drums ‘tabala’ of Foday Sillah, the former Emir of the Islamic State of Kombo, was confiscated when he was arrested by the British and exiled to Senegal in 1893. Jallow stressed that looting and illicit removal of cultural artifacts was indeed part and parcel of colonial oppression against The Gambia. The Justice Minister added that in one museum in France, 35 cultural objects from The Gambia have been found in their catalog. Minister Jallow told the NAMs that many countries in West Africa have ratified the 1970 Convention and are already getting back their cultural objects from European museums, and gave an example of the recently restituted sword of a former Muslim reformer, the great Sheikh Omar Futi Taal, who died in 1864. He advised the NAMs to ratify the Convention so that The Gambia could start diplomatic and legal means to get back her stolen cultural properties. The minister reminded NAMs that restitution imposed certain obligations and that is why the government is currently building the Sir Dawda Kaiaraba Jawara Museum in Banjul, where restituted objects can be put on display in optimal conditions. With the ratification, he said the UNESCO 1970 Convention Secretariat in Paris and ECOWAS will avail The Gambia with support of capacity building to enable heritage staff at the NCAC, to handle restituted objects. He noted that ECOWAS had earlier sent an advocacy mission in 2021 which met and discussed with stakeholders about the 1970 Convention.

After a lengthy and very interesting debate in which all NAMs present contributed, members of the National Assembly ratified the UNESCO 1970 Convention.

Hassoum Ceesay, the Director of the National Center for Arts and Culture, expressed delight at the ratification of the UNESCO 1970 Convention and thanked the NAMs for showing their strong support and commitment to Arts and Culture. He said their unanimity showed their cultural patriotism.

Present at the National Assembly for the Ratification of the Bill were the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, the Director of the National Center for Arts and Culture, and Fatou Mass Jobe, a member of the ECOWAS Restitution Committee.