French National Assembly Votes To Return Stolen African Artefacts To Benin And Senegal

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French National Assembly Votes To Return Stolen African Artefacts To Benin And Senegal

Photo: An expert report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 counted some 90,000 African works in French museums -- most of them at the Quai Branly, pictured here GERARD JULIEN AFP

The French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, has voted to return artefacts stolen from Benin and Senegal over a century ago. The bill will now be moved to the Senate for a final appraisal.

26 of the artefacts are from Benin, known as the 'Treasure of Behanzin', that were looted by French colonial forces in 1892 during the pillaging of the Palace of Abomey. Two of the pieces to be returned to Senegal include a sword and scabbard that belonged to Omar Saidou, a leading figure in Africa in the late 19th century.

All of the objects are currently owned by the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris, which houses over 70,000 objects from Africa. The French Empire held huge sway over the African continent during the 19th and early 20th century, controlling vast lands in West Africa, including modern day Senegal, Mali, Niger and Mauritania. It also controlled Algeria in the North of Africa which was encompassed into the French state itself.

The theft of cultural and artistic objects has long been a bone of contention between France and its former colonies with many demanding that they be returned to their historical places of origin. Just last month, 5 activists were charged with attempting to carry out a non-violent robbery at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in an attempt to put pressure on the French government and bring attention to their cause.

Benin's President, Patrice Talon, who, while welcoming the move, has argued that the return of 26 pieces of a 70,000 collection is pitiful. He said in a statement:

"To approve a specific law to hand back 26 artefacts is strictly the minimum."

The French Culture Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, was clear to make out that the act of returning the objects was not a form of reparations nor a direct apology, instead she stated the bill was:

"Not an act of repentance or reparation, nor a condemnation of the French cultural model."

French interference in areas it formerly controlled in Africa persists up until the present day. Over 4,500 French military troops are stationed in West Africa and are mostly involved in fighting Islamic militants in Mali. However, some have claimed that this is a continuation of former colonial policy and that France is seeking to continue dominance over a region rich in natural resources such as gold, uranium and other precious minerals.

French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the first French premiers to explicitly denounce France's historical colonialism. In 2019 he denied that French troops in Africa were part of a modern-day colonialism. He said in a 2019 speech:

"We need the political conditions to accompany the military work we do. I cannot ask our soldiers to take risks to fight against terrorism... and on the other hand have public opinions of these same countries believing in untruths. France is not there with imperial intentions."

He also called the French domination of Algeria:

"A crime against humanity."

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Thinking Humanity: French National Assembly Votes To Return Stolen African Artefacts To Benin And Senegal
French National Assembly Votes To Return Stolen African Artefacts To Benin And Senegal
The French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, has voted to return artefacts stolen form Benin and Senegal over a century ago.
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