The Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects in Tanzania: An Investigative Report


  • Wilson Jilala National Museum of Tanzania, Tanzania
  • Noel Lwoga National Museum of Tanzania, Tanzania



Ethnographic Objects, Cultural Relics, Detective Measures, Illicit Trade, Curio-Market


Investigators are an important apparatus in tackling highly organized crimes committed in a state of high confidentiality. In Africa, surveillance techniques are commonly used to expose many crimes including serious offences against individuals or a society. However, ethnographic objects and other cultural remains have received less investigative attention, and as the result they have been illegally exported out of the continent for economic benefits. Ethnographic objects refer to objects made, modified or used by humans that collectively represent cultural references and they are protected by law, rules, or customs. Cultural remains refer to tangible movable objects made, shaped, painted, sculptured, inscribed, and produced or modified by human agency. In Tanzania, like in many other African countries, relics and ethnographic objects have been plundered and illegally traded in underground economy across the world. People engaged in trading of ethnographic objects use souvenir markets as decoys and shipping passage to send goods abroad. This article presents the results from a recent investigation conducted at one of the souvenir markets in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where cultural relics and ethnographic objects from Tanzania and other African countries have been brought together and shipped abroad for commercial interests. A joint team of undercover intelligence agents and key informants participated in a confidential work to investigate the process by which ethnographic objects are collected, marketed and distributed to local and foreign markets. Mwenge is one of the largest and most popular souvenir centers with large and unique artefacts shops operating as tourism attractions. During this investigation, which spanned six months, our team identified 530 ethnographic objects which were on the market, ready to be sold and exported, despite their legal status under Tanzanian law, according to which their sale and export are unlawful. This study revealed that people who are engaged in the illicit trading activities of relics and ethnographic objects are knowledgeable, use legitimate business license, collection- and export permits to conceal their illicit trade of ethnographic objects. Furthermore, they are aware of the poor monitoring institutions and the illiteracy among security officials at ports of exits. This article discloses some of the techniques used to conceal the trafficking of cultural objects in Tanzania and proposes suitable measures to counter the problem.

Author Biographies

Wilson Jilala, National Museum of Tanzania, Tanzania

Department of Collection

Noel Lwoga, National Museum of Tanzania, Tanzania

Department of Collection




How to Cite

Jilala, W., & Lwoga, N. (2024). The Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects in Tanzania: An Investigative Report. Journal of the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO, 4(1).