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Thieving the Present – Building the Future
A Roundtable Discussion with Funmi Arewa, Temple University Beasley School of Law, author of Disrupting Africa: Technology, Law, and Development 

Introduced and Moderated by
Mark Levine, History, UCI

Yousuf Al-Bulushi, Global & International Studies, UCI
Jessica Millward, History, UCI
Sylvester Ogbechie, History of Art & Architecture, UCSB

Abstract (with citations)

Mwazulu Diyabanza walked into the Quai Branly Museum, the riverfront institution that houses treasures from France’s former colonies, and . . . began denouncing colonial-era cultural theft while a member of his group filmed the speech and live-streamed it via Facebook . . . he then forcefully removed a slender 19th-century wooden funerary post, from a region that is now in Chad or Sudan, and headed for the exit. Museum guards stopped him before he could leave . . .

In their quest for reparations for colonialism, slavery, and cultural expropriation, Diyabanza and other activists have been put on trial for theft after attempting to remove looted African art from museums in Europe. Contestation about looting and repatriation is part of a continuing dialogue about the past, present, and future and draws attention to patterns of involvement of the external in Africa. Resolution of contestation about looted art may be an important path to reconciliation of past wrongs and future possibilities. 

In March 2022, Burkinabè-German architect Diébédo Francis Kéré became the first black architect and first architect from Africa to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor. Kéré’s incorporation of local traditions and local people into his designs provides one potential model for future paths that disrupt the shadows of colonial overhang. Kéré “draws on local building traditions, inviting broad participation while making pragmatic use of vernacular materials and modern engineering methods to shape space in beautiful and thought-provoking ways.”  For his first building, the Gando Primary School in 2001, Kéré listed the Community of Gando as collaborators.  The Gando Primary School “was built by and for the locals, who crafted every part of the establishment by hand, guided by the architect’s ‘inventive forms of indigenous materials and modern engineering’.”  Kéré attributes the participation of the local community to the success of the Gando Primary School: “[t]he success of the project can be attributed to the close involvement of the local population in the building process.”

Although formal colonialism ended more than half a century ago in much of the world, pervasive colonial hangover continues to shape both international relations and relationships within and among countries. Colonial hangover has led to a far-reaching colonial overhang that continues to cast a shadow over people, places, and events. This has been evident recently in global patterns of Covid-19 vaccine exclusion. In March 2022, a trip by Prince William and Kate Middleton to the Caribbean was disrupted amidst contestation about memory, slavery, colonialism, and reparations.

Although technology is often thought to be a mechanism for disruption, digital era circumstances may offer an elusive promise of different future paths. In the digital era, many countries sit at the crossroads of a potential future that will be shaped by digital-era technologies with existing laws and institutions constructed under conditions of colonial and post-colonial authoritarian rule. Digital era technologies thus spread in contexts defined by a collision of the past, the present, and visions of the future that may be preconditioned by what has come before. Colonial hangovers continue to impact the local in many African contexts, in part because of persistent patterns of indiscriminate borrowing. Such borrowings have often internalized the external, all too often in indiscriminate ways. Cut-and-paste borrowing processes have also often failed to take sufficient account of local considerations and local needs.

About the author
Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Arewa is the Murray H. Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple University School of Law, where she teaches corporate governance. Prior to becoming a law professor, she worked for close to a decade in business and legal capacities at law firms, technology startup companies, and a venture capital firm. Professor Arewa is the author of Disrupting Africa: Law, Technology, and Development (Cambridge University Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 International Studies Association Science, Technology and Art in International Relations (STAIR) Award, which is conferred annually for the best book that advances innovative research agendas on the intersections between international relations and the politics of science, technology and art. Professor Arewa received an M.A. and Ph.D. (Anthropology) from the University of California, Berkeley, an A.M. (Applied Economics) from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an A.B. from Harvard College. She sits on IMTFI's Academic Advisory Board.

We will be reading Chapter 3, "Relationships and Accountability" of Disrupting Africa: Technology, Law, and Development with a focus on Colonialism, Divide and Rule, and Internal Relationships, pp. 49-61. The link to the chapter is HERE: Book available at Cambridge University Press with discount code.


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