Ethiopia has lost many ancient cultural heritages and treasures to plundering and looting, and it is common to find ancient Ethiopian artefacts in various western museums. Although there have been initiatives to facilitate the return of these stolen heritages in the past, the outcomes have not been pleasing.
Recently, Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum said the quickest way for Ethiopia to get back its artefacts from the V&A would be through a long term loan, referring to items stolen from Mekdela by British forces in 1868. The displayed treasures include a gold crown, a gold chalice and a royal wedding costume, among others. Ethiopia launched a formal restitution claim to have the treasures returned in 2007.
Government officials and scholars have voiced their apprehension, echoing that the return of historical treasures should not be up for discussion. Yonas Desta, Director General of Ethiopian Heritage Authority has been one of the most outspoken figures in the negotiations emphasizing that any treasure is only meaningful to the owner, not to the looter.
Yonas has been actively participating in heritage conservation and management since 2010, when, during his time as a director at the then-Ministry of Trade and Industry, he conducted a study about heritage management in Ethiopia. Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, offered him a chance to lead the then-Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH). EBR’s Samson Berhane sat down with him to discuss his firm position towards the country’s lost treasures, heritage management and their contribution to the economy.