France introduces draft law for the return of colonial objects to African countries

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                Le gouvernement français a présenté mercredi un projet de loi qui permettrait à la France de restituer certains artefacts culturels pris dans les pays africains à l'époque coloniale.
            

La loi, qui sera soumise au Parlement pour examen, est centrée sur le transfert de propriété de plusieurs objets africains, dont un sabre prêté au Sénégal l'année dernière.

Former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented the sword to Senegalese President Macky Sall in November in Dakar. French media has described the saber as a weapon of historical significance that belonged to the associates of El Hadj Omar Tall, a 19th-century military leader and Muslim scholar who led a short-lived empire.

France has also committed to return 26 objects that the French colonial troops looted in 1892 in a royal palace of the West African nation of Benin and were kept at the Branly-Jacques-Chirac museum in Paris. The bill only deals with these objects from Benin and Senegal.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced for the first time his intention to repatriate cultural objects in 2018 following a report he had commissioned from university researchers. The new legislation stipulates that these objects must be returned within one year of the entry into force of the law.

Museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London have opposed laws that would require them to return cultural artifacts to their countries of origin, arguing that such policies would empty Western museums.

But critics of collections from the Western colonial era hailed Macron’s gradual decision. Françoise Verges, specialist in culture, race and colonization, expects much more.

“There is still a huge and much more important job of restitution to be done,” she told the Associated Press. It recalls the study commissioned by the State in 2018 which counted at least 90,000 African works remaining in French museums.

Verges also wonders to what extent the restitution will take place with the recognition of French colonialism. The wording of the draft bill qualifies the works as “gifts” from the generals, which Verges calls euphemism.

“The question is to what extent these refunds will help to repair and not erase,” she said.

(AP)

            

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