Dekolonial Erinnern … für postkoloniale Beziehungsethik
Decolonial memories … for postcolonial relational ethics

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German Colonial Restitution Monitor

Interview with Flower Manase (National Museum of Tanzania)

„The future may seem far but it is promising.“

Question (Thomas Fues): What does your current work at the National Museum of Tanzania (NMT) look like?

Flower Manase: My main responsibility as curator at the NMT includes conceptualizing of exhibitions, doing research, publishing the findings and disseminating all relevant information to the public.

Question: To what extent has your museum addressed the colonial period, e.g. through exhibitions or events?

Colonial history part of national experience

Flower Manase: For my museum, colonial history is part of our national experience. We want to communicate our country’s history to the public. Since independence the NMT has addressed the issues of colonialism as we were transforming from a colonial institution to a ‘national museum’, meaning the museum of the people. The museum has focused on addressing the post-independence issues, for example the formation of the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 and Ujamaa policies. It’s all about addressing the new state, but also to critique the colonial history, not only the German era, but also the British period.

Question: As a national institution, to what extent have you interacted and collaborated with communities?

Communities are real owners

Flower Manase: The core function of the NTM through our five-year strategic plan is to connect the museum services to communities. Museums have a role of working with communities as they are only the custodian of cultural heritage and historical collections. Therefore, the communities are the real owners. That’s why the NMT has been working with the communities and has been supporting community-based museums like the Majimaji memorial museum in Songea.

The NMT has partnered with other organisations and communities of artists to co-create multiple outreach projects and programmes for communities in regions. But has also been welcoming communities to museum spaces to share their own stories inside the museum from their respective regions.

Space for dialogue

In addition, NMT has widened the space for dialogue. For example, in Dar es Salaam we have the House of Culture which was set up after a review of the museum structure with the purpose of attracting the Tanzanian public to museum. The museum has expanded its facilities to include public spaces like theatres, restaurants and other social structures.

I feel that the NMT has reformed itself, investing money through the government and other donors to create a friendly environment to attract the communities. Sometimes it’s not about reaching out but also about taking people in. And once they are in, you need a plan what they are the doing in the space.

Question: You have a long history of interaction and collaboration with German institutions. How did this start and what are some highlights you have experienced?

Flower Manase: It all started with actors from the German civil society approaching the NMT alongside with initiatives from the German government. Producer Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard and film director Nicolas Grange came to Tanzania in 2016 for their project „ReMIX-Africa in translation“. I worked then as an academic curator for the German team. For me, this was the first project which was funded by University of Bayreuth.

From the governmental side, it was the German Historical Museum which approached the NMT in 2016 as they were preparing the first exhibition on German colonialism in the middle of Berlin. The event brought out a lot of debates in Germany. That’s how I came into dialogue with Germany.

Changing debates

Highlights for me are to see how debates were changing. When I was a curator in residence at the German Historical Museum in Berlin in 2017, people on the German side were holding themselves back from addressing ‘colonialism’ and articulating criticism. My critical views of how Germany was dealing with its colonial history were not accepted at that time.

In the meantime, the situation has changed. There is now space where people can speak out freely. It has been a journey of transformation for both sides, Tanzania and Germany. I am happy to see now that in Germany not only governmental institutions are involved but also civil society groups can receive public funds to address colonialism.

Question: This is an encouraging message, things are moving forward. What hope and expectations do you have as a member of the preparatory group for the upcoming „Tanzania Exhibition“ at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin?

Flower Manase: That’s a difficult question. The Humboldt Forum brings out different feelings to different people. I am now talking as curator from Tanzania who is part of the team which works under the Memorandum of Understanding between the responsible German and Tanzanian institutions, namely Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Stiftung Humboldt Forum and the National Museum of Tanzania.

Understanding history and collections

My voice does not necessarily include the views of Tanzanian diasporic communities in Germany. But I can represent their perspectives to the NMT. For me, the hope is first of all to understand the history and collections of the site for the exhibition, the reconstructed Berlin Imperial Palace (Schloss), as well as the collections that are held by our cooperating partner Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz through their Ethnological Museum.

And to see how the German institutions are approaching the colonial collections from Tanzania. We have been welcomed to be part of a bigger process. Cooperating for the exhibition means watching, learning, criticizing and bringing in our own ideas. As we are preparing to receive collections from Tanzania presently in Germany, we understand that the transfer cannot be accomplished in a single one-day decision.

National framework for restitution

A lot of people are criticizing the NMT’s participation because of the building, the Berlin Imperial Palace, where the exhibition will be shown. But for us it’s the first time that we can understand what’s in there. It’s really important that we come up with a national framework as we prepare for comprehensive restitution. We therefore need to learn about the holdings of Berlin’s Ethnological Museum. We must familiarize ourselves with the facts of how much it costs to take care of such exhibitions, how much it costs for conservation efforts for tens of thousands of objects.

Therefore, NMT is engaged in a learning process to prepare for future budgets, structures and facilities. We do not want to only criticize or dialogue, but rather combine talk and action. Once restitution happens, we are prepared since we have seen how our German colleagues were taking care of these collections. What conservation was to them and how the building that kept these collections for a hundred years operated.

Knowing the differences to our situation in Tanzania, we can better appreciate what it takes in terms of finances and human resources to take care of returned collections. We understand how much work will be needed to facilitate the process of restitution. We at the NMT are bridging the gap between activists and the Tanzanian government. We are supposed to become active as facilitators and advisors when restitution happens.

Question: Will the exhibition travel from Berlin to Tanzania?

German and Tanzanian funding open

Flower Manase: This is the plan but it will involve lots of resources, funding and structures. As we have not had any previous experience of doing joint work, being part of the exhibition in the Humboldt Forum will teach us what it takes to bring it to Tanzania and how much that will cost. At the moment it is open how much the German government is willing to fund. The same holds true regarding the support of the Tanzanian government once the exhibition is brought to our country.

Question: Looking ahead for the next five years or so, what would be your wishes towards German actors, be it from the state or civil society? What can be done from our side to promote cooperation on our entangled history?

Flower Manase: German institutions and colleagues or researchers should be open to cultural exchange as they enter into collaborative work with people from other countries. Especially experts need to better understand how different cultures are working. As we work in joint teams we do not conform according to German standards. We expect Germans to keep in mind cultures from other countries, particularly Africa and the Global South in general.

Tolerance of different cultures

There must be more tolerance of different cultures, removing the fear of failure, removing the urge for perfection. Joint work processes need a lot of surrender of control but also learning other peoples‘ ethics and values. Accommodating each other’s values and ethics, not imposing or building up pressure from either side in the partnership. This is what is killing most of the projects. Who defines standards and the success of a project should be rethought.

The German side funding a project is mostly determined to have their own way of defining the process not in tune with the thinking of partners. It’s not only about satisfying German institutions and funders. They need to consider the perspectives of collaborators. Germans should not call on people from Africa to come in and work according to German standards but also take into account African standards.

Question: Looking at the Tanzanian side, what steps could be taken there to have a better mutual understanding and improved cooperation in the future?

Flower Manase: This depends on the level of cooperation we are looking at. The governmental level is about ministerial cooperation, Foreign Office to Foreign Office. At the institutional and individual or expert level for research cooperation it’s all about building trust in order not to stall the process. Fast tracking the process does not work, it needs to sink in in a natural way.

Building up trust

How to build up trust is a key challenge. Mutually supportive communication means allowing each other to reflect and come up with their own decision without getting pressure from the other side. It’s important to bring in the people on all sides, including institutions, ministries and individuals. It also means giving them enough time to share their views with their own people. Sometimes we say we represent countries or institutions but do not have sufficient time to talk to our respective communities before we communicate to government.

There should be enough time to do ground-checking. Ideas from the community level can improve projects on either side, in Germany as well as in Tanzania. Some projects coming from Germany are not necessarily supported by the public. The responsible institutions should go back to their own constituencies. The Humboldt Forum should go out and share their views with the public, not only relate to institutions or academics.

Ending with positive note

I would like to end with a positive note: The future may seem far but it is promising.