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Press Release, 10/09/2018

“Restitution is about justice and obligation”
Gerda Henkel Prize 2018 awarded to Achille Mbembe

Prof. Andreas Eckert, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy at the Federal Foreign Office Michelle Müntefering, Prof. Achille Mbembe, Julia Schulz-Dornburg, Prof. Peter Funke (Photos: Stephan Brendgen)

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Historian and political scientist Prof. Achille Mbembe, who teaches in Johannesburg, accepted the Gerda Henkel Prize in Düsseldorf on 8 October. Thus, the award bestowed by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, which carries prize money of 100,000 euros, this year went to one of the leading international representatives of postcolonial theory. In his acceptance speech Achille Mbembe, a native of Cameroon, spoke about the restitution of African artefacts and emphasised the magnitude of their loss. He pointed out that every authentic politics of restitution was "inseparable from a capacity for truth, such that honouring truth and acts of repairing the world became, by this very fact, the essential foundation of a new relation." "Indeed, restitution is not a matter of kindness. Restitution is about justice and obligation." And he advocated learning "to remember together". So this was not about withdrawing into oneself, but "about contributing to the rising of that new region of the world where we will all be welcome".

Dr. Michael Hanssler, Chair of the Executive Board of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, described Achille Mbembe as “someone who takes a clear political and social stand”. Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, highlighted in her honorific speech that Achille Mbembe sought to promulgate the “new enlightenment”: “Bringing that which is concealed to light – that is Professor Mbembe’s work.” In the subsequent discussion with Africa historian Prof. Andreas Eckert (Humboldt University Berlin), Achille Mbembe spoke about the current situation in South Africa. Only few people knew, he commented, that South Africa also has a veritable “refugee crisis”. Further topics the two men touched on included the actual magnitude of migration from countries of the African continent to Europe and the question how far colonialism shapes Africa’s present to this day. The Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Gerda Henkel Foundation Julia Schulz-Dornburg presented the prize.

Since 2006, the Gerda Henkel Prize has been awarded every two years to excellent and internationally acclaimed researchers who have demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement in the disciplines and funding areas supported by the Foundation and can be expected to continue to do so. Previous winners of the Gerda Henkel Prize are art historian Prof. Martin Warnke, sociologist and cultural historian Prof. Richard Sennett, Islam scholar Prof. Gudrun Krämer, historian Prof. Jürgen Osterhammel, Egyptologist Prof. Stephan Seidlmayer, and historian Prof. Lyndal Roper (

The Gerda Henkel Foundation was established in June 1976 by Lisa Maskell in memory of her mother Gerda Henkel as an incorporated foundation under civil law, headquartered in Düsseldorf. The Gerda Henkel Foundation concentrates its support on the historical humanities. In several programmes the Foundation furthermore addresses issues of great relevance to contemporary life and the future, above all as part of its special programmes “Islam, the Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements” and “Security, Society and the State”. As part of the Lisa Maskell Fellowship programme, the Foundation supports young scholars in the humanities in both Africa and Southeast Asia. With its “Patrimonies” funding initiative it promotes the preservation of cultural heritage, specifically in regions experiencing crisis. In connection with funded projects, the Foundation also supports social and humanitarian measures as part of complementary projects. The Gerda Henkel Foundation is able to fulfill its purposes in and outside Germany.

Gerda Henkel Foundation press office
Dr Sybille Wüstemann
Telephone +49 211 93 65 24 - 19
Telefax +49 211 93 65 24 44

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