German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will hand back 20 stolen Benin bronzes when she travels to Nigeria next week, her spokesman said Friday, as part of Berlin’s efforts to reckon with its colonial past.
Germany signed an agreement in July to gradually begin returning hundreds of looted Benin bronzes from German museums.
That this batch of Benin bronzes can be returned before the end of the year “shows how serious Germany is about facing up to its colonial past”, said foreign ministry spokesman Christofer Burger.
Baerbock is due to travel to Abuja from December 18-20, accompanied by Culture Minister Claudia Roth and the directors of five German museums that together house the largest collections of Benin artworks, he added.
Thousands of Benin bronzes, metal plaques and sculptures that once decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin are scattered around European museums after being looted by British colonial troops at the end of the 19th century and subsequently sold to other countries.
Germany has around 1,100 of the precious 16th- to 18th-century artefacts, split between some 20 museums.
Berlin’s Ethnological Museum currently holds 530 items that were taken from the Kingdom of Benin — in what is now Nigeria. Among them are some 440 bronzes, considered to be the second-largest collection behind the British Museum in London.
Nigeria has been negotiating the return of Benin bronzes from several European countries and plans to build a museum in Benin City in southern Edo State, where it hopes to house them.
France and Britain have also handed back several Benin bronzes.
Berlin’s efforts are the latest in a series of steps to try to take responsibility for the crimes of the colonial era, including the official recognition in May 2021 of a genocide perpetrated by Germany in Namibia.