France has agreed to return dozens of works of art to Benin more than century after they were plundered from the West African nation. President
President Emmanuel Macron said 26 artefacts would be repatriated “without delay” after a report recommended the return of cultural objects stolen from Africa during the colonial era.
The items due to be returned include statues from the Palaces of Abomey taken by the French army in 1892, which are currently in the Quai Branly museum in Paris, The Local reports. They represent just a handful of some 5,000 works requested by the government in Benin.
The report, written by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy, concluded that unless it could be proven that African artefacts in French museums were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to the continent permanently, not on long-term loan.
Speaking during a visit to Burkina Faso last year he said he “cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries” is sitting in French museums and private collections. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification,” he added.
The move “marks a potential milestone in the fight by African countries to recover works pillaged by Western explorers and colonisers,” according to Reuters. Western institutions, including the British Museum, have refused to return objects to their countries of origin – occasionally choosing to offer them on loan instead.
But some governments, such as Ethiopia and Greece, “have rejected the idea of loans, saying they should not have to borrow back their own stolen property,” Reuters adds.