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… From The Arc De Triomphe

France had had many colonies in West Africa, as the European powerhouse ruled Algeria (1830-1962), Ivory Coast (1843-1960), Benin (1883-1960), Mali (1883-1960), French Guinea (1891-1958), Mauritania (1902-1960), Niger (1890-1960), Senegal (1677-1960) and Burkina Faso (1896-1960) in the past. Like other colonial masters, the Frenchmen had looted cultural artefacts of these countries and brought them to Paris. Although other colonial masters have refused to give back the looted items to their former colonies, France has decided to restitute those artefacts in order to set an example.
In recent times, Paris has held a debate over the restitution of thousands of African cultural artefacts from France. Just when the debate has become heated, the French presidency has announced that Paris is restoring 26 works, plundered by the French Army in 1892, and will soon return those to the concerned authorities in Benin. The French government has also asked the West African nation to get prepared for their return.

According to sources close to the Emmanuel Macron administration, the government recently proposed a change in legislation to ensure the return of those museum artefacts to Africa from France. President Macron also urged France’s African and European partners to attend a meeting in Paris next year, saying that the event would define a framework for an exchange policy for African artworks. The Elysee Palace said in a statement that the president “hopes that all possible circulation of these works are considered: returns but also exhibitions, loans, further co-operation“. For the last few years, the African nations have been demanding restitution of artworks. However, the French law strictly forbids the government from ceding state property, even in well-documented cases of pillaging.

Meanwhile, the Elysee Palace said that Benin – the tiny West African nation – was home to the Kingdom of Abomey (1600-1894) and a priceless wealth. (However) instead of sitting in the capital of Porto-Novo, the throne of King Glele from 1858 is one of the centrepieces of the 70,000 African objects kept at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris. A couple of years ago, Benin asked France to return the former’s items, including statues, artworks, carvings, sceptres and sacred doors. Initially, France rejected the request. Later in November 2016, President Macron hinted that his government would accept Benin’s request. The president, delivering a speech in Burkina Faso, said that France would soon “return the African heritage to Africa“.

The Scramble For Africa

It may be noted that out of the estimated 90,000 African artworks in French museums, nearly 70,000 are at the Quai Branly Museum created by former President Jacques Chirac, who was a keen admirer of African and Asian art. Elsewhere in Europe, 37,000 objects from Sub-Saharan Africa were at Vienna’s Welt Museum and 180,000 were at Tervuren-based Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium.

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