French University to Return Human Remains to Tanzania, Namibia

The University of Strasbourg in north-east France has undertaken the task of verifying the origins of its collections of human skulls, bones, and other remains that were collected in the wake of abuses under German colonial rule in Namibia and Tanzania.

In March 2023, Namibia's Ovaherero Genocide Foundation requested the return of human remains obtained after the massacre of Ovaherero and Nama people by German troops in Namibia between 1904 and 1907, considered the first genocide of the 20th century which Germany formally recognised in 2021. The Namibian request followed another by the Moshi province of Tanzania in January 2020, seeking the restitution of remains belonging to the Wachagga people from around Mount Kilimanjaro. Many of the group's leaders were killed after resisting colonial rule.

Vice-President of the university and chair of the scientific council, Mathieu Schneider, said holding on to objects and human remains obtained during colonisation might be a problem if "we want to have a peaceful dialogue between Europe and Africa." The University of Strasbourg has 110 human artefacts - skulls and bones - in its collection, obtained during Germany's colonisation of Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century.


University Palace, the main building of the former Imperial University of Strasbourg (file photo).

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