British museum agrees to return emperor’s hair to Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Embassy in London said it would hold talks with the museum on Thursday about the repatriation. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 04 March 2019

British museum agrees to return emperor’s hair to Ethiopia

  • The Ethiopian Embassy commended the museum’s decision as an “exemplary gesture of goodwill”

ADDIS ABABA: Two locks of hair belonging to widely revered Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros will be repatriated after a request from Addis Ababa, the National Army Museum in Britain announced Monday, as more African countries seek to reclaim heritage they say was taken decades, even centuries, ago.
An outcry erupted last year among some Ethiopians over an exhibit by another institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the 1868 British expedition to what was then called Abyssinia. During that campaign, in which 13,000 troops were deployed to free several British hostages, the emperor killed himself and his fortress was captured and looted.
Ethiopia’s government at the time said it would use “whatever legal and diplomatic instruments” to secure the return of related items including an intricate golden crown.
That another British museum, the National Army Museum, held locks of the emperor’s hair was seen as particularly sensitive. “Displaying human parts in websites and museums is inhumane,” Ethiopia’s minister for culture and tourism, Hirut Woldemariam, told The Associated Press last year.
That museum has said the hair was donated in 1959 by relatives of an artist who painted the emperor on his deathbed.
“Our decision to repatriate is very much based on the desire to inter the hair within the tomb alongside the emperor” at a monastery in northern Ethiopia, Terri Dendy, the National Army Museum’s head of collections standards and care, said in a statement.
It was not clear when the formal handover would occur. The Ethiopian Embassy in London said it would hold talks with the museum on Thursday about the repatriation, which comes at the end of a yearlong commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the confrontation known as the Battle of Maqdala.
The embassy in a statement commended the museum’s decision as an “exemplary gesture of goodwill,” adding that “a display of jubilant euphoria is to be expected when (the hair) is returned to its rightful home.”
Now Ethiopians say they seek the return of the bones of the emperor’s son, Prince Alemayehu, who was taken to Britain and died there at age 18. He was buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The decision to return the emperor’s hair is “a great start, both in encouraging the British toward looking into the possibilities of returning our looted antiquities and also the Ethiopian stakeholders whose decades-long, painstaking efforts actually can bear fruit,” Yonas Desta, director-general of Ethiopia’s Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, told the AP.
The bulk of what was taken, however, remains in the hands of the descendants of the British soldiers, according to Alula Pankhurst, a former professor at Addis Ababa University and an expert on Ethiopian studies.
“Some items in private collections have already been returned but the bulk of the items are in public collections within the UK and those cannot be restituted without an act of Parliament, and that is something that requires a big change in popular opinion and a bill has to be presented by members of Parliament,” he said last year. “This is something that cannot be done overnight.”
Some in Africa expect the momentum to grow in repatriating heritage from institutions overseas.
Late last year, a study by French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, recommended that French museums give back works that were taken without consent, if African countries request them.
That could increase pressure on museums elsewhere in Europe to follow suit. The experts estimated that up to 90 percent of African art is outside the continent, including statues, thrones and manuscripts.


IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

Updated 21 November 2019

IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

  • IAEA said in a report last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Iran to explain the presence of uranium particles at an undeclared site, as a landmark deal aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic activities threatens to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report made public last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency".
The agency's acting head Cornel Feruta said IAEA and Iranian officials would meet in Tehran next week to discuss the matter, adding that the UN body had not received any additional information.
"The matter remains unresolved... It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly," he told IAEA member states at a meeting of the agency's board of governors.
A diplomatic source told AFP that the IAEA would send a high-ranking technical delegation to Iran next week.
The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.
While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.
Sources say the IAEA took samples from the site in the spring and that Iran has been slow in providing answers to explain the test results.
The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers has been faltering since last year when the United States pulled out and started to reinstate punishing sanctions on Tehran, leaving the other signatories struggling to salvage the agreement.
Over the past few months, Iran has breached several parts of the deal it signed with the US as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, in which it committed to scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
But Britain, France and Germany have said they are extremely concerned by Iran's actions in stepping up its uranium enrichment and other breaches.
Enrichment is the process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
On Monday, the IAEA confirmed Iran's stock of heavy water for reactors has surpassed the 130-tonne limit set under the agreement.
Heavy water is not itself radioactive but is used in nuclear reactors to absorb neutrons from nuclear fission.
Heavy water reactors can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as an alternative to enriched uranium.
The IAEA has also said one of its inspectors was briefly prevented from leaving Iran, calling her treatment "not acceptable".
Iran has cancelled the inspector's accreditation, saying she triggered a security check at the entrance gate to the Natanz enrichment plant last month.
The IAEA has disputed the Iranian account of the incident, without going into details.