On the day he received a 252-page report urging a widespread audit of African artifacts in France’s public collections with an eye to restituting objects that were acquired under duress or otherwise without consent, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to fast-track the restitution of 26 royal statues to the West African nation of Benin. The artworks, a set of sculptures taken from the Palaces of Abomey by French troops in 1892, are currently held in the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The decision marks a complete reversal from France’s stance last year, when it refused Benin’s request for the restitution of thrones, statues, and jewelry taken in 1892.
The announcement coincided with the release of “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics,” the report commissioned by Macron and prepared by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy. The report draws on the expertise of cultural and political figures in Benin, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, and France. In addition to more long-term measures for comprehensive restitution of artifacts seized during, and immediately after, France’s colonial occupation of African territories, the report calls for a first phase of returns within the next year, including the “formal restitution of several largely symbolic pieces whose return has been requested for a long time by various African nations or communities, so as to show and demonstrate the true wish for restitution on the part of the French State.”
In addition to returning the 26 royal statues “without delay,” Macron proposed organizing a conference in Paris next year for representatives from African and European nations and institutions to elaborate an “exchange policy” for African artifacts.