France began the legal process of restituting artifacts to Benin and Senegal.
Royal Seat of the Kingdom of Dahomey, from the early 19th century, at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Photo by Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images.
French council members discussed a draft law on Wednesday that would allow for the restitution of some 26 stolen artifacts to Benin and a sword to Senegal. In 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to return African objects that were taken during colonization; yesterday’s discussion marks the first judicial step taken toward fulfilling the promise. The new law is required in order to circumvent a principle of French law that deems treasures in public museum collections to be “inalienable.” Under the draft law, French authorities would be obliged to return the artifacts within one year.
Among the objects to be returned to Benin are anthropomorphic sculptures which bear royal crests. The statues were taken during the looting of Abomey Palace in 1892 and were then gifted by French colonel Alfred Dodds to a precursor of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. In December 2019, France and Benin signed a deal for a collaborative program that will provide French financial support to build or remodel museums and train heritage specialists.
Last year, French prime minister Édouard Philippe returned the historic sword to Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, making an emblematic gesture of commitment to Macron’s earlier pledge. The sword, which was formerly held in the collection of the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, is now displayed in the Museum of Black Civilisations in Senegal.