France retreats from report recommending automatic restitutions of looted African artefacts

Three 19th-century wooden royal statues of the Dahomey Kingdom (present day Benin), at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, France
Photo: Shonagon

The controversial French report recommending a systematic and unconditional return of African cultural heritage was all-but buried yesterday at a conference in Paris. The report's authors Bénédicte Savoy and Felwin Sarr raised alarm in French and European museums by recommending automatic restitutions to African states of all goods seized during the colonial era. In his opening speech at the symposium on Thursday, the French culture minister Franck Riester only pledged that "France will examine all requests presented by African nations" but asked them not to "focus on the sole issue of restitution."

After the Savoy-Sarr report's explosive release last November, President Emmanuel Macron announced that an immediate follow up would come in the form of a major Euro-African conference planned in April on the issue. That event never got off the ground and was subsequently cancelled. Thursday's much lower-key symposium at the French Academy focused on “wider cultural cooperation with Africa“ according to a source close to the minister, aimed at overcoming the confusion and consternation caused by the report.

The conference was attended by some 200 archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, curators and representatives of ministries of culture from Europe and Africa. Despite being invited to address the meeting by the minister, Savoy and Sarr failed to show. They were not available for immediate comment.

Riester says that France is still working with Benin on the restitution of 26 cultural items looted in a military raid in 1892—another promise by President Macron—but no date Read More – Source