in France, the blockades remain

How did European countries deal with this issue of restoring African works of art? Who are the ones who will return goods? Those who are still studying the project? The last stop for our tour of Europe in France. In 2017 in Ouagadougou, Emmanuel Macron promised to enable the temporary or permanent restoration of African heritage in Africa within five years. Results three and a half years later: France has presented two works, one in Senegal, the other in Madagascar and is returning 26 others to Benin.

One team was voted in December last year to allow these refunds in Benin and Senegal. The sword known as El Hadj Omar Tall, founder of the Toucouleur Empire, had already been returned in the form of a loan to the Senegalese authorities in November 2019. The handover of the works in Benin is planned for the autumn, without a doubt. at the end of October.

This will be a crucial moment: Paris will give Cotonou 26 works from King Béhanzin’s treasury, which was looted in 1892 by General Dodds under the sack of the Abomey Palace. Among these works reappeared: anthropomorphic royal statues, recades, thrones or doors of the royal palace of Abomey.

This restoration is an important gesture in the eyes of Marie-Cécile Zinsou, art historian and president of the Zinsou Foundation in Benin. “It is very important as a team because it is a first,” she insists. Since 1960, African states have demanded the return of parts of their heritage that were looted during colonization. And this is the first time this has been made possible. ”

Delivery to Madagascar questioned by senators

These petitions sparked almost no debate in France. At least on the surface, the law was passed almost unanimously by members of parliament. Of course, the senators did not vote for the text, but there was not much to oppose this restoration of works in Benin and Senegal to protest against the handover to Madagascar of crown adorning Queen Ranavalona III. In November last year, Paris really began a process to return this work to Antananarivo.

The first step, the deposit before the vote in a specific law. However, this delivery in Madagascar took place in the middle of a debate in the Senate on the bill for the restoration of works of art in Benin and Senegal. Tired of not being consulted, the senators then proposed creating a structure responsible for “better scientifically designing” returns. What the government refused. Consequence: The Senate did not want to vote on the bill from the CEO.

The subject worries right, some support in the government

The issue is therefore still sensitive in France. This is undoubtedly the reason why the government will not make other repayments at the end of the five-year period, despite the fact that several countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ethiopia have made requests.

The subject worries about the court. One of his fears is to see French museums empty. Even within the government, the idea of ​​initiating a process of restoring African heritage did not seem to attract support. The project was not supported and even less defended by the former Minister of Culture Franck Riester.

A project that even encountered part of the French administration, which gave the impression of doing everything to slow down implementation. In addition to these blockages, the real problem for lawyer Corinne Hershkovitch, a specialist in the restoration of works of art, is that the French authorities have not developed any material strategy.

“It is not possible to return these items without downgrading them”

“No process has been introduced,” she regrets. The 26 objects promised in Benin, it is France that has chosen these objects. There was no bilateral procedure between France and Benin. And then a law was required. And why did it take a law? Because we are still in a deadlock due to the fact that all cultural articles included in national collections are impossible to condemn in an indescribable way. So it is not possible to return these items without downgrading them. And as today, there is no settlement procedure, we need a law. So even there, we have not introduced a process that would make it possible to find criteria, forms of repayment. So I would say that since the Ouagadougou century, we have not really advanced. ”

The government did not retain the idea formulated by Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr to change the inheritance code. He also did not follow the chronogram of refunds that the two academics suggested in the report that the French president had ordered them. As a result, France, unlike other European countries, gives the impression of having rejected the issue of restoration somewhat in the background.

Funny paradox: however, it was Emmanuel Macron who had opened the reflection on the subject of his Ouagadougou Valley in November 2017.

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