Discussions have been underway for years, but French President Emmanuel Macron is closer to realizing his country’s long-promised plans to return some artwork taken from Africa back to its place of origin.
Art, including royal thrones, ceremonial altars, and revered statues, were taken from the 19th century Dahomey Kingdom. Known as the “Abomey Treasures,” these cherished pieces are held in the Quai Branly Museum in Paris near the Eiffel Tower and serves as a site where thousands of works from other African nations reside.
Macron said the 26 pieces will be given back by the end of October, “because to restore these works to Africa is to give African young people access to their culture.”
It remains unclear when exactly they will arrive in Benin.
“We need to be honest with ourselves,” Macron told a group of African cultural figures at an Africa-France gathering in the southern city of Montpellier. Other works belonging to Senegal and Benin were already returned, and the restitution of art to Ivory Coast is planned for the new year.
A 2018 report commissioned by Macron recommended that French museums give back works that were taken without consent, estimating that up to 90% of African art is located outside the continent. According to the report, about 90,000 pieces of African art reside in France.
Other European countries are making similar efforts.
To facilitate the repatriation of the Abomey Treasures, France’s parliament passed a law in December 2020 allowing the state to hand the works over and giving it up to one year to do so.
Macron acknowledged that France has a “responsibility and duty” to Africa because of its role in the slave trade, yet defended its military presence in Mali and other countries in the Sahel region as necessary to keep terrorists at bay.
President Macron also refused to apologize for the past.
“France cannot build its future unless it assumes its Africanness,” Macron noted during the conversation with other African nations.