Chief Nkuko in the MAS 100 X Congo exhibition


Times are strange,

I was at the MAS museum last week here in Antwerp to see the interesting exhibition “100 X Congo”beautiful but also critical, in the interesting catalog it is mentionned some of those objects where taken by force ( Like the Nail figure from chief Nkuko that I studied here)  and that at the turn of the century African people where exhibited in the Antwerp Zoo, and that many of them died from the flu . It’s a change from the period where those crimes where hidden and that there was only praise for the colonialist that where bringing “civilisation” to Africa. We now know better and can praise the MAS for also involving Congolese scholars in the research, that’s refreshing. .

See the pictures I have taken at the MAS:

But isn’t it going a bit far when the MAS Belgian conservator who also has Congolese roots Nadia Nsayi and who collaborated to do the catalog with experts from the Kinshasa museum, is pleading on television to discuss the return of those important African art objects to Congo, finding our attitude paternalistic.
Aren’t museums an Universal place for everyone, should we realy try to change the past and empty our museums from our best objects ?

There was also an activist Mwazulu Diyabanza who came to Antwerp to claim the return of the African art and chief Nkuko to Congo ( see image below) , strangely enough during his visit he wasn’t able to identify the Luba staff but seemed to be able to give an explanation on it’s spiritual signification

La Statue Nkisi Kondi de l’AfricaMuseum qui a été récolté par le Lieutenant Delcommune près de Boma le lendemain d’une expédition ou il avait brûlé le village qui refusait de se rendre aux ordres de Leopold II ( read more at )

Last but not least ending this sunday I have Five African Art lots at auction for you to discover

David Norden African Art. Sint Katelijnevest 27. B2000 Antwerpen. Belgium.

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One thought on “Chief Nkuko in the MAS 100 X Congo exhibition”

  1. A friend living in London sent me this answer:
    Hi David,

    Thank you for your Email received today.
    >>> ‘Times are strange’ … you were at the Antwerp MAS museum last week to see the interesting exhibition “100 X Congo.
    While I am much in favour of the widespread Black Lives Matter movement, I share your concerns about the current popular initiative to repatriate stolen African treasures.

    Belgium’s Africa Museum Triggers Request by DRC

    “Belgium’s Africa Museum at Trevuren, a former colonial institution holding one of the world’s largest collections of African art, has led to calls by the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many of its artefacts to be repatriated”.
    Guido Gryseels, the director general at the museum, told the Guardian he was open to the return the works, “but there is currently no museum in Congo. They don’t even have a storage place.There are 85,000 artefacts in Kinshasa, stored in rather difficult conditions, not more than a barn actually”.
    ☆ Denver Museum of Nature and Science repatriated 30 wooden carvings to the Mijikenda people of Kenya and northern Tanzania. They were thought to have been looted so the Denver team were keen to repatriate them. The long, rectangular carvings with round heads, known as ‘vigango’, memorialize members of the community who have died and are thought to embody their spirits. After a valiant effort to raise funds the enthusiastic Denver team were disheartened to discover that it took 10 years to negotiate Kenyan beaurocracy. The original site where the vigango stood could not be determined. Worse news was to follow. After a long time in storage they were eventually erected outside in a chosen graveyard. The story doesn’t tell if they were still there the following morning.

    >>> Another good example of what can happen is illustrated by the recent Chokwe mask events in Angola/Congo :
    >>> The Campaign to Bring African Art Home : The Dundo Room at the IncarNations exhibition at Bozar in Brussels displays inventory cards for works of art that disappeared from the Dundo Regional Museum in Angola :

    I spent 20 years based in Luanda, not far from Dundo, and have wonderful memories of travelling throughout the country as well as Kinshasa where I quite often took the ferry across the Congo River to Brazzaville.
    The masks went missing from Dundo Regional Museum, Angola, during the civil war (1975-2002). Around 60 masks went missing, 16 have been returned so far.

    But we are looking at this complex matter in rather a simplistic way. There are more challenging issues at stake, principally to do with fraud and corruption, because even if, some fine day in the future, there will be first class secure museums in Africa, there is still the problem of items simply going missing.
    To get an idea of the complexity its worth looking at the key players. You mentioned Mwazulu Diyabanza Siwa Lemba, but a name that keeps coming up for me is Sindika Dokolo.
    It is important to look carefully at his game.

    The Dundo Regional Museum officials praised the Sindika Dokolo Foundation for the recovery of the masks.
    Mr. Dokolo says he has found and purchased 15 pieces so far that he intends to return to the Dundo museum, including the two on display at Bozar in Brussels . He says he typically confronts the current owners with evidence that a piece was stolen—usually museum inventory cards that describe and depict the work. Then he makes an offer. “They need to show me what they paid and I pay them back what they paid for it—which is not the market price—because it’s a stolen object,” Mr. Dokolo said. “If they refuse to sell, my lawyers go after them.

    Mr. Dokolo has become known for waging a broad campaign to recover and return African artwork. He has had no difficulty in finding enthusiastic sympathisers for what looks like a very worthy cause but it turns out that the stolen masks were paid for with stolen money. And the money was stolen from the people of Angola.

    A well-connected businessman, Mr. Dokolo is married to Isabel dos Santos, (the daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos) Africa’s wealthiest woman. I applaud his motives but worry about where all the money came from to pay for his top lawyers. He and his wife are currently under investigation for obtaining their wealth by corrupt means.

    In 1972 Sindika Dokolo was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) . He studied economics, languages and commerce in Paris until baccalaureate at the Lycée Saint Louis de Gonzague in Paris then at the University of Paris VI. Today he is known as a prominent art collector, campaigner and businessman. Artists and celebrities such as the model Alek Wek and singer Keziah Jones, have publicly expressed their support and appreciation for the work of ‘the collector’, highlighting the role that Sindika Dokolo Foundation has played in the development of contemporary African art .
    Sindika is one of four children born to Augustin Dokolo Sanu and Hanne Kruse, who were married in 1968. Hanne Kruse was a Danish nurse who arrived in the Congo in 1966 to supervise the Danish Red Cross dispensary. Her son Sindika Dokolo became known as a prominent Danish businessman. He has dual Danish and Congolese nationality, is Congolese-born, and, since 1999, a Luanda based businessman.

    Today Sindika Dokolo says “the time has come for all the lost works to return home, where they will be able to fully play their role, a role which will help to strengthen our culture and our knowledge, which will make it possible to complete our heritage”. Through his father’s initiative, he started an arts collection at the age of 15. Dokolo senior, millionaire and collector of African arts, had built a vast business empire in Zaire at the time of Mobutu with, as its flagship, none other than the monolithic Bank of Kinshasa.
    Sindika Dokolo launched a worldwide campaign to force Western museums, art dealers and auction houses to return Africa’s art. During an interview to Angolan TV network TPA, he said his parents already very much liked art: his mother took him to visit all the museums in Europe and his father was ‘a great collector of classical African art’. Later, in 1986, these family businesses were nationalized by the Government of Zaire under President Mobutu. Sindika Dokolo is now trying to recover those family assets in the DRC, which has brought him into much legal trouble.
    Sindika Dokolo would like to talk only about the works of art he collects. A passion, of course, but also an ideal cover to hide his darker activities: large-scale diamond trading-deals, shady acquisition of stakes in oil companies, opportunist creations of breweries and cement factories, etc etc … At 47, he orchestrates a vast empire and manages a fortune acquired largely thanks to his Angolan wife, Isabel dos Santos. She herself, always Daddy’s girl, became a billionaire thanks to the favors of her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, the former president (1979-2017) of Angola. The kleptocratic regime of her father was at its height throughout her childhood so, in her business dealings, she saw nothing wrong with an unrelenting campaign of ganster-style theft.
    Always talkative to extol the emergence of the continent and the new generation of African oligarchs, the heir couple is now also suspected of having benefited greatly from Angolan public funds. Between them they fully or partially control as many as 450 companies. That’s alot of companies, but of course these are nearly all offshore, registered in exotic jurisdictions attached to secrecy, to guarantee their discretion and facilitate aggressive tax optimization. People in power in Angola today are very wary of Sindika Dokolo, who they see as as foreigner who owes so much to the dos Santos clan and who clumsily meddles in the delicate relationship between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now the esthete agioteur finds himself implicated for having allied himself with Angolan state companies under the orders of his stepfather in order to benefit from public and private funds repeatedly sucked into his nebula of offshore financial companies.

    In his own way, Mr. Dokolo dreamed of embodying a sort of “colonial revenge” co-opted by a globalized African elite whose strength rests on a fine knowledge of both African powers allowing privileged access to public money and of the intricacies of international financial functioning. Raised in Belgium with other sons of the big Mobutist bourgeoisie, Mr. Dokolo attended the prestigious lycée Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, in Paris, before studying economics and commerce at Pierre-et -Marie-Curie (Paris-VI). Back in Kinshasa, he did not really shine in business, so he fled the war to go on an adventure in Luanda, on the other side of the border, where a friend introduces him to Isabel dos Santos, already very wealthy, whom he will marry in a lavish ceremony in 2002. Together, they were to immediately wield billions of dollars and conquer groups of the former Portuguese colonial power, in which they took significant stakes. Out of conviction and interest, Mr. Dokolo also began to defend the brutal and kleptocratic regime of his stepfather, but he cared for his own image and reputation by repeatedly pushing forward his apparently overwhelming passion for “classical” African art.

    On the one hand, ‘the collector’ embarks on an aggressive hunt for looted works from the time of colonization to repatriate them to the continent. On the other, ‘the businessman’ multiplies joint ventures with Angolan public companies and finds himself considered as a “politically exposed personality” by European banks which, like Deutsche Bank, end up severing all relations with him. Since 2015, companies with Isabel and Sindika as sole beneficiaries have been subject to more frequent inspections by European authorities. Mr. Dokolo regularly freaks out against what he describes as contempt on the part of Western banking establishments.

    For his business, Mr. Dokolo trusts only his wife and a discreet high school friend, hardworking and skilled in offshore finance: Konema Mwenenge.
    Almost wherever “Sindika” invests, “Konema” takes a management position and lends his name to the head of the couple’s front companies. This French citizen of Congolese origin, also the son of an aristocrat from Mobutu Sese Seko’s “second republic”, has little taste for mundaneness. “Sindika is the oligarch ‘Show Off’, Konema has a very rigorous side”, says a relative of the two men.

    M. Mwenenge operates from an address in the VIIIe district of Paris, but also from London where he established one of his financial services companies. With Mr. Dokolo he also created in Dubai a diamond trading platform called Nemesis International which prides itself on processing precious stones from Angola and elsewhere for a value of $ 2 billion per year.
    The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (with The New York Times) have shown how a global network of consultants, lawyers, bankers and accountants helped them amass their fortune and park it abroad.
    Authorities are to issue an international arrest warrant but it is intriguing to note that while Sindika Dokolo remains in Luanda, his wife refuses to return to Angola for fear of facing charges, instead dividing her time between London, Paris and Dubai.
    Konema Mwenenge is everywhere. Between October 2015 and February 2017, he supplied nearly $3 million in invoices to the Angolan brewery. ‘Engineer’ Isabel dos Santos and ‘Doctor’ Sindika Dokolo are the “Angolan reference shareholders”. For this, Mr. Mwenenge uses six offshore companies he represents, without raising the slightest question of the law firms or accountants with whom he interacts. It simply indicates that these are “Shareholder Loans”. Nor were there any questions about one of Mr. Mwenenge’s companies registered in the British Virgin Islands who had won consultancy contracts for more than $5 million, or the suspect links with Donald Trump cronies.
    Between 2011 and 2016, at least 16 companies headed by Sindika Dokolo and Isabel Dos Santos, most of them based in tax havens, maintained business relationships with Sodiba. All these transactions are justified by the construction of a new brewery in Bom Jesus, in the Angolan province of Bengo, not far from Luanda.

    It is not just Angolan public funds that have enabled Sindika Dokolo and his wife to form an economic empire. Banks in Angola and Portugal have also approved more than $1 billion in loans for their opaque companies.

    Mr. Dokolo alone is said to have taken out loans on his behalf or as collateral for more than $300 million. “We don’t have a group with my wife, but our companies have a combined turnover of two Billion dollars. Our loans are always guaranteed”, he justifies himself. According to one “Risk Exposure Analysis” carried out by Fidequity, four Angolan banks have nevertheless breached “Risk Concentration Rules” having loaned the equivalent of more than 25% of their equity to the oligarch couple.

    The companies, accounts and assets of Sindika Dokolo and Isabel dos Santos intertwine to the point where they themselves apparently no longer know who owns what. Their business managers get lost in money transfers and management of mysterious companies. Sometimes they simply get it wrong and mistakenly assign ownership of one business to another or vice versa. It is now looking like their offshore financial web has finally gotten out of hand.

    Sindika Dokolo did not wish to answer all of the questions submitted by ICIJ and its partners. Targeted by investigations in Angola, Portugal and Monaco, he says “Beyond the truth of the facts, some things that you accuse me of, are not even illegal in Angolan law. It’s as if I accuse you of being ugly or in a bad mood … what good is that?
    With his wife, he now faces heavy prison terms in Angola.

    Thanks again David for sending me that Email. Ha Ha. You set me off with some memories and couldn’t help reflecting on the wider picture …



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