The ECOWAS Commission, through its Department of Education, Science and Culture, trained museum experts on modern standards of management of African museums.
The training took place from 30 May to 4 June 2022 in the city of Porto-Novo, the Republic of Benin. The training, which falls within the framework of the 2019-2023 ECOWAS Action Plan on the Return of Cultural Property to Their Countries of Origin, was organised in partnership with the Senghor University in Alexandria, the School of African Heritage, and the Open Society Foundation.
The training, which took place at the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA) in Porto-Novo, was preceded by a virtual training session that took place on 19, 24 and 25 May 2022. The main obj+ective of the session was to strengthen the technical capacities of 30 heritage curators on the basic concepts of preventive and curative conservation of museum collections.
The virtual training focused on the following themes: the legal issues of the return of cultural property to their countries of origin according to the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention; the presentation of the 2019-2023 ECOWAS Action Plan on the Return of Cultural Property to Their Countries of Origin; actions to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property and presentation of the red lists of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), as well as testimonies on Nigeria’s and Benin’s successful or ongoing initiatives for the return of cultural property.
The face-to-face training focused on the introduction to museology and museum management, cultural mediation, security and safety in museums, handling and packaging of museum objects, stakeholders in the control and degradation of museums, museums and buildings, infestation and climate in museums, marketing and management of museum collections, degradation of collections and management of reserves, and techniques for digitisation of museum collections.
The Porto Novo training was officially closed by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts of Benin. The closing ceremony featured testimonies and the reading of the recommendations of the training, a vote of thanks, the speech of the Director-General of the School of African Heritage, the speech of the Africa Representative of the Open Society Foundation, the speech of the Director-General of ICOM, the speech of the Rector of Senghor University in Alexandria, the speech of the ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, the handing over of certificates to participants, and the closing remark by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts of Benin.
All the partners who spoke at the event welcomed the ECOWAS initiative, which enabled West African curators to be equipped with the capacities for the return of cultural property. During the ceremony, Professor Abdoulaye Maga, representing the ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, commended the Beninese authorities for their efforts, which have enabled the return of symbolic property regarded as the pride of Africa. He also expressed ECOWAS Commission’s gratitude to all the technical and financial partners who believe in and accompany the ECOWAS Action Plan on the Return of Cultural Property.
Mr Florent Couao-Zotti, Technical Advisor for Culture, representing the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts of Benin, thanked the ECOWAS Commission for organising the meeting in Benin when his country had just received 26 works of art returned by France. He then stated that culture is now recognised by the Beninese authorities as one of the main pillars of the country’s development. He also invited the curators who received the training to put into practice the lessons learnt so that the whole of West Africa is ready for the return of cultural property.
At the end of the training, the participants recommended, among others, the organisation of specialised practical training on museum management such as digitisation techniques, security and safety of collections, as well as training in project management; the sensitisation of Member States so that they give more importance to the management of museums in terms of financing, adequate means to ensure security and conservation according to modern standards; the facilitation of public-private partnerships in the setting up of reception facilities; the intensification of advocacy with Member States for the ratification of the UNIDROIT Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention; and the setting up of a periodic meeting of heads of museums in the region to assess the progress of the return process in Member States.
At the end of their stay, all participants had the opportunity to visit the Presidential Palace in Cotonou for the exhibition of 26 works of art returned by France to Benin.