Africa on the move #MuseumWeek #sportsMW

My first visit to Benin was in July 2006, as part of a mission that took me through Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Benin. Visiting Benin was very important because, as an Antillean, I know many men, women and children were deported from Benin to be enslaved in the Caribbean. My ancestors probably came from Benin. Those of Toussaint L'Ouverture, one of my "Black Stars", were also from Benin, and he said: "In overthrowing me, they have only cut down the trunk of the tree of Black liberty; it will grow back through the roots, because they are numerous and deep. « 

I had met Monsieur Émile Derlin Zinsou in Paris to prepare for this trip, and his character profoundly moved me. We visited Cotonou and museums together and I was able to attend a cabinet meeting, as well as meet a traditional doctor. We then took the road to Ouidah. During the journey I learned many valuable things. We arrived near the place where the slave ships once dropped anchor. I was extremely emotional. I collected myself. At one point I was overcome with emotion and felt tears start to roll down my cheeks. In an attempt to calm myself, I approached a little boy on the beach who was having some trouble putting a hook on his fishing line. I offered him my help and saw that he did not understand me. I realized at this point that this child did not understand French. The national language is French, and yet there are children who do not understand and do not speak French?

After seeing this child, I continued to walk along the beach and there I discovered the Gate of Return. Those who designed and built this gate may not even be aware of the deep symbolic power it holds for a young Antillean like me. I strongly feel that, through me, everyone in my family line who had been forced to leave was coming back there with me. They kept alive the dream to one day return and I feel that, through me, when I cross the Gate of Return, that is what happens. I can hear them say: "We have been waiting for you for a long time…"

A few years later, in 2014, having returned to Benin to accompany the release of my book Mes Etoiles Noires (My Black Stars), I visited the Fondation Zinsou, in Cotonou, and the Ouidah Museum for the first time. I found these to be very soothing places, in sharp contrast to my experience of 2006. They are not places of suffering, but places of culture and knowledge, places for the promotion of African culture. For these museums offer a space for artists from all over Africa. These are not places of lamentation, but invitations for women and men to stand up, and to be proud of their history and their culture. This museum of art is a wonderful space that will surely help the future development of Ouidah.

The Fondation, headed by Marie-Cécile Zinsou, is of great importance, both for Benin and for the African continent as a whole. After a visit to the Ouidah Museum and the Fondation Zinsou, it is impossible to have a negative view of Africa. They represent Africa on the move towards excellence. It was hard to leave this place.

Lilian Thuram
President of the Education contre le racisme Foundation

From the Zinsou's Foundation 10 years book