What the algorithm doesn’t see

The issue of digital restitution is often seen as an amelioration, towards the act of physical restitution. By others it is seen as a not-good-enough substitute, a stand in for the real. But digital restitution is not a stop-gap and neither is it the ghost of the real thing.

Digital restitution is its own monster with its own heft, its own demands. When we treat it like a shadow of the real thing, we ignore its weight and its complexity. Its complexity lies in the equal questions of what belongs to whom, but also in how. The form of the digital is not neutral – as with any archive it holds the remnants of western epistemic notions of order and control of knowledge.

But we must also contend with the fact that the internet was never built for Africans – again with infrastructures out of reach, again with ever trying to keep up with the modern, with algorithms and landscapes of African absences. To have a conversation about digital restitution is also to have a conversation about digital reformulation

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