French Senate approves return of 27 African cultural objects to Benin and Senegal

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The return of African cultural objects from French institutions has been a hotly debated subject in recent years which has sometimes gained momentum and then calmed down and slowed down again. Today, three years after President Emmanuel Macron pledged to return the objects to their country of origin, the French Senate unanimously voted for the definitive return of 27 African works to Benin and Senegal.

November 4e, the 343-member French Senate voted in favor of the bill, approved by parliament in October, to return the artifacts within the next year. Among the objects, 26 are statues – which are now part of the collection of the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris – taken from the Abomey Palace in present-day Benin by French militias in the late 1800s. last of the objects is a saber that belonged to a 19eWest African anti-colonial military leader of the century, currently on loan to the Museum of Black Civilization in Dakar by the French Army Museum.

The movement is important because France is home to tens of thousands of African works that were acquired during colonial times, often by illicit means. The passage of the bill marks one of the first substantial restitution of objects to their country of origin since Macron pledged to make the return of African works a priority in 2017. Macron’s speech in 2017 in Burkina Faso saw the commission of a now famous Savoie / Sarr report. .

The renewed buzz on the subject in France has been echoed by other countries which are under pressure to look into their colonial past. In mid-October, the Rijksmuseum and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam both expressed support for the return of around 100,000 objects belonging to the Dutch government and taken during times of colonialism.

The approval of the bill is a huge step in the ongoing discussion of what France, among other countries, should do. The bill is underlined by a series of protests initiated by Congolese activist Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza, who staged protests in the form of an attempt to “take back” African works exhibited abroad. Diyabanza was arrested for demonstrations at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and other museums in Paris, Marseille and the Netherlands. France’s new bill will likely be good news for Diyabanza, but it will certainly not be enough in the eyes of defenders.

The return of cultural objects looted during colonial times will be welcomed, however, some have criticized the efforts. The conclusions of the Savoy / Sarr report were rejected, including that of Stéphane Martin, the former president of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum, who judged the report’s suggestions “”self-flagellation and repentance. “Contrary to such criticism, members of the Senate committee called the bill”strictly exceptional, ad hoc and limited character. “In addition, it is reported that the senators are asking for a national council to advise in future repatriation cases. Such a committee would be” responsible for considering the circulation and return of non-European cultural objects “.


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