France is set to return ancient artifacts looted from Benin and Senegal during its colonial past.
This was part of a restitution agreement approved upon by the two countries. Benin will receive 26 artifacts plundered from the palace of Behanzin in 1892, part of which is the royal throne exhibited at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris.
Senegal will get the 19th-century sword belonging to renowned military and political figure El Hadj Omar. Both the sword and sheath are on display at France’s Army Museum and are currently in Dakar as part of a long-term loan deal. The restitution was taken to a vote that saw 48 MEPs vote in favor, two absentia and none against.
One of the ruling party’s MP Yannick Kerlogot who sits on the parliamentary commission for cultural affairs expressed his support for the return of cultural property to Benin and Senegal.
There is increased pressure for European countries to restitute and repatriate art and cultural heritage currently showcased in Western museums and private collections that descend from sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the pieces were acquired through military expeditions, armed pillage, missionary collections, and other means that lacked express consent or adequate compensation.
The French President Emmanuel Macron took a bold step in November 2018, by asking for a 258-page report on the restitution of African art dubbed The Sarr-Savoy Report. The President’s acknowledgment of the report showed a change in attitude and sort of acknowledgment by a European leader of an issue that needs attention. However, since the report’s release, not much has been done by France or any other European museum till now. On Friday, Macron tweeted “The commitment I made in Ouagadougou in 2017 is materializing”.
Most European museums and collections are shielded by “inalienable and imprescriptible” right that prohibits a permanent handing over of accessioned objects. There is no single agreeable protocol for dealing with repatriation requests.
Je me réjouis que le projet de loi restituant des biens culturels au Bénin et au Sénégal ait été adopté par le Parlement. L'engagement que j'ai pris à Ouagadougou en 2017 se matérialise. Une nouvelle page de la coopération franco-africaine peut s'ouvrir !https://t.co/SVuSwJcUA5
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 18, 2020