Restitution or Cooperation? Competing Visions of Post-Colonial Cultural Development in Africa

Sarah Van Beurden

Global Cooperation Research Papers 12, Duisburg 2015

Keywords: Development, cooperation, restitution, Africa, museums

DOI: 10.14282/2198-0411-GCRP-12


This paper provides a critical and historical perspective on the use of the language of ‘development cooperation’ in characterizations of post-colonial relations between the West and Africa. Using the example of the post-colonial debates over cultural and economic restitution between Congo and its former colonizer Belgium, this paper narrates the historical process by which the post-colonial relations between the two countries became defined as ‘development cooperation’, and the implications of that process. The paper shows that since its political independence in 1960 until the late 1980s, the language in which Congo/Zaire described its ‘cooperation’ with its former Belgian colonizer was one that emphasised restitution, while Belgium insisted on a language of ‘development cooperation’ (ontwikkelingssamenwerking). The paper argues that the prevalence of the use of the development cooperation language today not only obscures the historical process behind its ascent; it also masks inequalities that are deeply characteristic of the post-colonial relations between the two countries.

The Author

Sarah Van Beurden (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania 2009) is an associate professor of African Studies at the Ohio State University. She was previously a visiting fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen and is currently a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. She is the author of Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture (Ohio University Press, 2015) and several articles and chapters on the history of colonial and postcolonial Congo.

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