Saturday, 7 March 2020

Armed Groups Loot Artefacts across Sahel

Will Brown, 'Echoes of Isil as armed groups loot priceless artefacts across Sahel', Telegraph 7 March 2020
Armed groups operating across Africa’s Sahel region are looting hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites [...] experts have warned. Over the last few years, government forces have retreated from vast areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in the face of an onslaught of jihadist attacks. As lawlessness has spread, armed groups — many of them allied to Al Qaeda and Islamic State — have gained influence in an area the UN describes as “potentially one of the richest [cultural] regions in the world.” The Sahel boasts archaeological remains dating back to the Neolithic period. In mediaeval times, West African civilisation blossomed along the banks of the Niger River into a myriad of kingdoms and empires.[...] But experts say the region’s extraordinary heritage is under attack. Museums, tombs and villages have been raided for antiquities and photos show historical sites studded with newly dug holes.
Solid details on the illicit trade artefacts are scarce. Historically, the Sahel has not received as much attention from archaeologists as North Africa and the Middle East. There are countless sites of historical significance have been left unmapped and unprotected
Local villagers often know the whereabouts of historical sites. But as the Sahel’s security situation continues to deteriorate, many are being forced either by poverty, hunger or armed groups to dig them up antiquities. The raided artefacts — which include everything from statues and masks to mediaeval jewellery and dinosaur bones — often end up in auction houses and private collections in Europe, America and China. It is unclear how much money is being made from the trade but previous seizures of trafficked Sahelian antiquities in Europe have been valued at tens of millions of pounds. There are fears that there could be an even bigger market in the Gulf states. “Objects are often passed around different countries by middlemen before they reach the international market which makes it very difficult to build up a clear picture,” says Guiomar Alonso Cano at UNESCO’s Office for West Africa and the Sahel. “As the crisis continues to escalate, we must ensure that the Sahel’s extraordinary cultural heritage is safeguarded and does not go towards funding organised crime and terrorist groups”

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