Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has recently pledged to return 26 pieces of Benin art to the country. He said this after a report was presented which called for African art in European museums to be returned. The report provided statistics which showed that about 90% of African art is outside the continent, in European Museums.
The report has recommended a restitution after it was discovered that most of these artefacts which were carted away during scientific expeditions and military conquests in the colonial era are lodged in Europe. Among French public collections alone, there are about 90,000 objects that can be traced to Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report was compiled by Felwine Sarr, a Senegalese economist and Bénédicte Savoy, an art historian from France. They recommended that if African countries placed requests for artefacts traced to them, such artworks should be returned. After going through the report the French President promised to return 26 pieces of artefacts to Benin, these artefacts were carted away during the colonial era.
The report also recommended that artworks proven to have been carried off to Europe via illegal trafficking after 1960 should be returned. There have been debates on the restitution process for about 50 years though no real progress has been made till now. Recently Nigeria had demanded for bronze statues which were carted away during the colonial era to be returned. The British however said they could only loan them back to the country for a certain period. This is not the first instance of former colonial masters dictating the terms of restitution.
France will however be setting the pace for other European nations if the process falls through. It will be great to see if Macron will be able to implement the restitution process and return the artefacts as promised.