The French government examined on 15 July, a draft law(projet de loi) which would authorize the government to restitute to Benin 26 artefacts that are in the Musée du quai Branly- Jacques Chirac and to Senegal, the sword and scabbard of El Haji OmarSaïdou Tall, a Muslim leader and founder of the Toucouleur Empire who fought the French colonialists in the 1850s. (1)
The sword of Omar Tall which was kept at the Musée de l’Armée, Paris, has been already sent to Senegal which displays it at the new Museum of Black Civilizations, Dakar. The new law would simply confirm legally the transfer of full ownership rights in the sword to Senegal.
Readers may recall that various articles pointed out in the past that the main obstacle to French restitution of looted African artefacts was the existence of a rule in French law that prevented the transfer of objects that are in the State domain, the so-called law against alienability. Most of the looted artefacts are in the State domain as administered by the museums which are all public institutions. A transfer of rights in such artefacts would be against current French law. The Sarr-Savoy report recommended a modification of the law. (2) This is what the proposed legislation aims at. The draft law goes now to parliament for approval.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe symbolically handing over to Senegalese President Macky Sall the sword of Omar Saïdou Tall, who led the resistance against the French in 1857-1859.
Former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe symbolically handing over to Senegalese President Macky Sall the sword and scabbard of Omar Saïdou Tall, who led the resistance against the French in 1857-1859.
This new draft law constitutes an exception to the general principle of inalienability. The proposal builds on precedents set by the cases of the transfer of the mummified body of Saartjie Bartman in 2002 to South Africa, the Maori skulls in 2010 to New Zealand, and the return of the Korean manuscripts in 2011 to South Korea. (3)
Macron Promises To Return African Artefacts In French Museums: A New Era In African-European Relationships Or A Mirage?
Royal statues, Dahomey, Republic of Benin, now in Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France. Left, King Glélé, half-lion, half- man. Centre, King Ghézo, half-bird, half-man. Right, King Béhanzin, half-shark, half-man.
With this new proposed law, President Macron will be fulfilling the historic promise he made at Ouagadougou in 2018:
“I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for that, but there are no valid justifications that are durable and unconditional. African heritage cannot just be in European private collections and museums. African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou. In the next five years, I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa. This will be one of my priorities.” (4)
The exception to the rule of inalienability has been made to implement the promise of the president and in the context of the international cooperation agreements between France and its former French African colonies. The restitution would have to be made within a year after the entry into force of the new law.
French army enters Abomey,1893
By the new draft law, Macron not only fulfils a promise but also gives the lie to those who were complaining that a year had passed since the Sarr-Savoy report was presented to Macron and yet nothing had happened. There were those who declared that the France was dragging its feet on restitution. To our surprise many seem to have expected restitution to be effected as soon as the ground-breaking report by Sarr-Savoy was presented to the French president. We had to write on time factor on matters of restitution explaining, inter alia, that France and Benin have agreed to postpone the restitution until 2021 when the new museum in Abomey would be ready.(5)
The way then is open to further restitution of looted African artefacts in France. The nature of this new draft law and the precise language used in the text suggest that it authorizes only the mentioned objects, 26 Benin objects and the sword of Omar to be restituted. This would mean that every restitution would have to be specifically designated in the law unless later judicial interpretation reads the text as general authorization to the government to restitute African artefacts that were collected under similar circumstances as those of the 26 Benin artefacts and the sword of Omar. We doubt whether such an interpretation would be legitimate. The report of the government on the proposed law to the Conseil d’État stated clearly, that this is a limited derogation from the general principle of inalienability for transfer of the named artefacts to Benin and to Senegal.(6)
This new law is a specific derogation from the general rule on inalienability which is not questioned and remains applicable.
But can France, pays de la liberté, égalité, fraternité afford to continue holding illegally the artefacts of African peoples who were subjugated by France in the colonial era? Can co-operation with the African peoples be fully achieved when Africans bear a grudge against France for still holding on to objects looted in the colonial period? Can France deny to Côte d’Ivoire what it has given to Benin and Senegal? Can France refuse Ghana what it has given to Senegal?
France would have to examine seriously a rule that prohibits transferring objects from the national domain even if the objects were stolen or mistakenly entered as State property. Either the French courts interpret the new law as applicable to all African States that can establish that their artefacts were stolen in the same or similar circumstances as those of Benin or a new general exception to the rule of inalienability would have to be made for looted African artefacts.
Thus, restitution of African artefacts still has a long way to go despite the presence of this historic exception to the general rule of inalienability of State property.
Face pendant, Baule, Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.
Face pendant Baule, Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.
It is encouraging that France will be returning few objects to Benin and Senegal as an exception to the rule against alienation, but should this exception not be general so that the other looted African artefacts could be returned soon? France cannot go on forever pleading the obstacle of the rule against alienation which is purely an internal rule and thus not binding on other States. African peoples cannot be frustrated by an internal rule of the former colonial State. It is up to the State concerned to find a way out of laws preventing implementation of an international or moral duty. The French rule cannot bind the African peoples.
Accumulated frustration in the end may result in unexpected behaviour such as occurred recently when some young Africans decided to seize, in colonial style, an African artefact with the intention of returning it to Africa. (7)
Felwine Sarr, Senegal, and Bénédicte Savoy, France, in the courtyard of Collège de France, Paris, where they prepared their famous ground-breaking report on restitution of African cultural heritage,2018. Africa is forever grateful.
Felwine Sarr, Senegal, and Bénédicte Savoy, France, in the courtyard of Collège de France, Paris, where they prepared their famous ground-breaking report on restitution of African cultural heritage,2018. Africa is forever grateful.
In a note accompanying the draft law, it is explained that no norm of international law binding on internal law is applicable to the artefacts in question. The UNESCO Convention of 1970 is declared not applicable to the artefacts in question it being non-retroactive. What is not mentioned in the
‘avis’ of the Conseil d’État is that:
1.Withholding the artefacts of the African countries is against numerous UNESCO/ United Nations resolutions that have been passed since 1972 urging Member States to return looted artefacts to their countries of origin. (8)
2. Continued withholding of looted artefacts constitute violation of human rights of the African peoples as provided for in several instruments-Convention on Human Rights, Convention on Human Rights of Indigenous peoples. (9)
3. Retention of looted artefacts is contrary to resolutions of various conferences such as United Nations Conference on Return of Cultural Property,1958 and against the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums.
What has to be considered in this matter is also the fact that looting or stealing the property of others has always been considered as morally wrong and there is a corresponding obligation to return such objects in due course.
Can France, pays de la liberté, égalité, fraternité afford to continue holding illegally the artefacts of African peoples who were subjugated by France in the colonial era? Can co-operation with the African peoples be fully achieved when Africans bear a grudge against France for still holding on to objects looted in the colonial period? Can France deny to Côte d’Ivoire what it has given to Benin and Senegal? Can France refuse Ghana what it has given to Senegal?
Royal Seat of the Kingdom of Dahomey, now in m Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
President Macron must be praised for not only exposing the underlying injustice in Europeans holding on to looted African artefacts but for taking concrete steps to make such restitution possible in France. This act is in itself a revolutionary gesture. Governments and museums in United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and others have not gone far in restitution despite the recent flurry of expressions of solidarity with African and Black peoples by Western museums in the wake of protests by the Black Lives Matters movement. (10) These expressions of sympathy and solidarity only helped to increase resentment of Africans and persons of African descendants against the museums that seem to have forgotten the close and inherent relationship between colonialism, racism, and the museums that keep African artefacts that were looted during the colonial era.
The Arts Council England has given out a contract for the preparation of rules for handling colonial artefacts that should be presented in this autumn. But even before the report has been completed, those making the report have already declared their report would not change UK government’s position on restitution. (11)This is a very curious attitude. Normally, we would expect the report to be completed before any such assessment is made by the government or the institution that gave out the contract. But here we have the opinion of those making the study even before their work is finished. The British Museum and other British museums, within the framework of the Benin Dialogue Group, have declared their willingness to offer short-term loans of the Benin artefacts to Nigeria. (12)
Door of the Royal Palace at Abomey, looted by General Dodds in 1892
One good news from the United Kingdom is the recent report, Return of the Icons by AFFORD (African Foundation for Development)which advocates the restitution of looted African artefacts in the United Kingdom.I was particularly pleased to read, in connection with a survey, that ‘Diaspora respondents were overwhelmingly(approximately80%of all respondents) in favour of the return of stolen African artefacts and human remains to their countries and communities of origin’.(13)
This should put an end to all temptations on the part of the holders of looted African artefacts to try to argue explicitly or implicitly that the presence of an African diaspora in their countries somehow justifies or necessitates the holding of looted African artefacts in their museums. They insinuate that they need these objects in order to teach the African diaspora about the culture of their forebears. Neil MacGregor and James Cuno sometimes veeredin this direction. Fortunately, the African diaspora sees easily through the tactics involved here and insists that the artefacts be returned to where they were stolen.
With regard to restitution of African artefacts in United Kingdom, we must recall the valiant efforts of Bernie Grant, Labour Member of Parliament, who repeatedly brought the issue of the Benin artefacts to the attention of the British Parliament and received unconvincing answers such as those still being presented by the holders of looted artefacts. The exchange of letters of Bernie Grant and museum directors makes useful and interesting reading. (14)
Toyin Agbetu and the Pan-African NGO Ligali had similar exchange of letters with Neil MacGregor concerning the Benin artefacts. (15) Also noteworthy was the march from the Africa House Kingsway to the British Museum organized by Agbetu and Ligali that unsettled a few spirits at the British Museum. The presence of so many Africans at the same time in the museum seemed to disturb officials of the museum.
Belgium has now set up a group comprised of parliamentarians and representatives of the African diaspora in Belgium to study the issues of restitution and make recommendations. Debates in Belgium were so acrimonious that King Philippe refused to attend the inaugural opening of the renovated Africa Museum. (16)
Despite an agreement on main principles regarding restitution of looted colonial artefacts by the culture ministers of the German Federal States, not much progress has been made regarding effective restitution.(17) Humboldt Forum, the $700m museum in Berlin that has postponed its opening to 2021 is still determined to display looted African artefacts and shows no inclination to restitution of looted African art. The recent rethinking of many museums on slavery, colonialism and slavery has not affected the managers of the controversial museum. On the contrary, they have placed a golden Christian cross on the building. (18)
In the Netherlands, the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (NMVW) which comprises the Amsterdam Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal, issued a set of rules entitled Return of Cultural Objects: Principles and Process Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. These rules are intended to govern procedure by which requests for return of colonial objects can be submitted. So far, no concrete restitutions of African artefacts have been effected. (19)
Funerary Crown, Dahomey, Benin, now in Musée du Quai Branly, Paris
Funerary Crown, Dahomey, Republic of Benin, now in Musée du Quai Branly,-Jacques Chirac, Paris.
In Portugal, the debate on restitution of African artefacts has not really started and when the Parliamentarian, Joacine Katar Moreira raised the issue in the National Assembly in Lisbon, she was heavily criticised and subjected to racist attacks from right-wing elements. The motion she tabled was that the patrimony of the former colonies now in Portuguese museums and national archives should be identified, reclaimed and restituted to their countries of origin. (20)
Other European countries such as Italy, Ireland, Sweden, and Norway have not shown any readiness to solve the problem of holding looted African artefactsand yet they do possess African artefacts of dubious provenance.
It can be said that, on the whole, Europeans have not yet completely accepted that looting of artefacts of others is wrong and that after 100 years of illegal detention, these artefacts should be returned to their owners in Africa without pre-conditions. They still hold on to ill-gotten objects and talk without shame about loans of the looted artefacts to their owners. They seem to believe they have a God-given right and duty to supervise and control Africans in their use of their resources and their artefacts. It is this racist believe that makes every discussion on restitution a difficult task. The socialization of most Western museum officials make it difficult for them to understand racism and its effects on its victims.
Throne of Glélé, Dahomey, Republic of Benin, now in Musée du Quai Branly, Paris ,France.
France has adopted a better position but still has to do more to ensure quicker restitution. Above all, there should not be any unnecessary delay due to French internal law or the need to study the artefacts. Returning a sword back to Senegal is praiseworthy but what about the other 2276 Senegalese artefacts that are still in the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac? Would it be necessary to pass a new law for each of the 70,000 looted African objects said to be in the Musée? And what about the rest of the 3157 Benin artefacts that are still in the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac? How long will it take to return even a tenth of these artefacts? (21)
At a time of awakening of many persons to the evils of slavery and colonialism and the damages caused by racism, we would expect Western States and their museums to undertake seriously to return looted African artefacts. France has taken a first necessary legal step, however inadequate. Those in Britain and elsewhere who complain that existing legislations prevent them from restituting undoubtedly looted objects should finally start instituting a process that will lead to modification of old laws so that they might be able to do what is right. They cannot go on for another hundred years blaming the state of the law without at least asking their legislatures to modify the inhibiting laws.
Statue féminine, bois dur, or, laiton, corail, perles de verre, noix de coco, fibres végétales, coton, 44 cm, Côte d’Ivoire, région des Lagunes, style
Female statue, Attié Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France.
France, Britain, Germany, Holland, and other Western States, steal our cultural artefacts and after 100 years, agree to talk about these precious objects. Yet the arguments presented to justify their holding of our looted artefacts are the same old and weak excuses that cannot erase the initial wrongdoing which involved violent destruction of Africans lives and property for which there has so far not been any compensation. What do these States understand by friendship? Friends that refuse to say sorry for their mistakes and still carry on with arrogance and a superiority complex that rejects any possibility of wrongdoing after massacres and genocides recorded by their own historians. At the basis of all this is the belief in their inherent superiority bolstered by the so-called Enlightenment that actually provided the philosophical basis for the racism that continues to be our major problem.
An innocent bystander hearing a debate on restitution may be forgiven for thinking that Queen-mother Idia was an Anglo-Saxon queen and that Nefertiti was a Teutonic goddess from Berlin that Africans, for some unknown reason, are asking the Europeans to lend them. Europeans appear as owners and Africans as beggars. The true histories of the violent acquisitions by invading Western armies and the destruction of African cities, for example, Benin City, Kumasi and Maqdala are seldom fully told even by scholars who pretend to be friends of Africa.
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Among the impressive African objects in the Pavillon des Sessions is this sculpture of Gou, God of war, that the French looted in 1892 from the former French colony, Dahomey, now Republic of Benin.
African States and organizations must finally impress on Western States and institutions that the quest for the restitution of looted African artefacts is an essential element of our Independence that cannot be regarded as complete until a large part of the artefacts are back home; that they are serious about this quest and intend to use all possible means to resolve this issue which has been pending for more than a hundred years. The recent African Union establishment of a committee of Heads of States ‘to speed up the return of cultural assets’ should show some results soon. (22)Above all, we hope the African States will finally send written requests for the restitution of their looted artefacts to France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, and other Western States.
Béhanzin ,king of Dahomey, sent into exile in Martinique in 1894 by the French colonialists.
3. Ibid. See also http://restitutionreport2018.com/sarr_savoy_en.pdf
5.Why France is dragging its feet to repatriate looted African artworks https://www.theafricareport.com/23025/why-france-is-dragging-its-feet-to-repatriate-looted-afri
One year after the Sarr-Savoy report, France has lost its momentum in the restitution debate
Some Have Waited For 100 Years; Others Are Tired After Few Months: Time in Restitution Matters,
6.’ par une dérogation limitée, encadrée et circonstanciée au principe d’inaliénabilité des collections publiques françaises, qui n’est ainsi pas remis en cause, le transfert de propriété de ces œuvres à la République du Bénin ainsi que, dans les mêmes termes, d’un sabre avec fourreau appartenant également aux collections nationales à la République du Sénégal.’ Avis de Conseil d’État
8. It is absolutely amazing how Western States have refused systematically since 1972 to pay attention to the resolutions of the United Nations/UNESCO requesting Member States to return looted artefacts to their countries of origin. They should not be surprised that if they choose to be deaf in this area, other States may also choose to be deaf in other areas.
· Resolution 3026 A (XXVII) of 18 December 1972
· Resolution 3148 (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973
· Resolution 3187 (XXVIII) of 18 December 1973
· Resolution 3391 (XXX) of 19 November 1975
· Resolution 31/40 of 30 November 1976
· Resolution 32/18 of 11 November 1977
· Resolution 33/50 of 14 December 1978
· Resolution 34/64 of 29 November 1979
· Resolutions 35/127 and 35/128 of 11 December 1980
· Resolution 36/64 of 27 November 1981
· Resolution 38/34 of 25 November 1983
· Resolution 40/19 of 21 November 1985
· Resolution 42/7 of 22 October 1987
· Resolution 44/18 of 6 November 1989
· Resolution 46/10 of 22 October 1991
· Resolution 48/15 of 2 November 1993
· Resolution 50/56 of 11 December 1995
· Resolution 52/24 of 25 November 1997
· Resolution 54/190 of 17 December 1999
· Resolution 56/97 of 14 December 2001
· Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 by the Security Council of the UN concerning Iraq
· Resolution 58/17 of 3 December 2003
· Resolution 61/52 of 4 December 2006
· Resolution 64/78 of 7 December 2009
· Resolution A.67/L.34 of 5 December 2012
· Resolution A/RES/70/76 of 9 December 2015
9. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right,6 December 1966. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,13 September 2007.
10. British Museum Supports Aims and Objectives of Black Lives Matter? The Height of Hypocrisy!
11.Even English Institutions Are Discussing Restitution: Effects OF Sarr-Savoy Report? https://www.modernghana.com/news/980840/even-english-institutions-are-discussing-restituti.html
12. Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution of Benin Artefacts From Its Agenda https://www.modernghana.com/news/924239/benin-dialogue-group-removes-restitution-of-benin.html
13.AFFORD publishes guiding documents in Return of the Icons campaign
The exchange of letters between Bernie Grant and Julian Spalding, Director of Art Gallery and Museum Kelvingrove Glasgow can be found also in Peju Layiwola, Benin 1897.com Art and the Restitution Question, Wy Art Editions, 2019
15. On the continuing British inability or unwillingness to restitute artefacts one may gain by looking at an NGO such as Ligali and its activities to advance the cause of the African peoples. Here is a note from the homepage of Ligali.
The WalkIncludes restored uncensored footage
On 27 March 2007, a Pan Africanist named Toyin Agbetu challenged the British Government, Monarchy and Church as they gathered to hold a religious celebration for the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in Westminster Abbey, England. The ritual, which made no mention of the Haitian Revolution, the Middle Passage and the African freedom fighters that ended Britain’s system of transatlantic and colonial enslavement focused on the acts of parliamentarian William Wilberforce.
Watch the restored uncensored footage of what happened that day and afterwards when the African community in Britain stood beside him – from his arrest and incarceration to the eventual dropping of all criminal charges. Their journey took them from Westminster Abbey, outside Downing Street, the National Portrait Gallery, Africa House and eventually to the belongings of their Ancestors still illegally held captive in the British Museum.
This is the story of their walk…
18. Golden Cross on Humboldt Forum: Arrogance, Stubbornness, Provocation and Defiance https://www.modernghana.com/author/KwameOpoku
https://www.modernghana.com/news/926797/are-dutch-museums-really-moving-ahead-in-restituti.html 20., Will Portugal be the last former colonialist State to restitute looted African artefacts? https://www.modernghana.com/news/986892/will-portugal-be-the-last-former-colonialist-state.html
21. See Annex I for a list of number of looted African artefacts in Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.
22. See Annex II for a recent African Union press release on restitution.
ANNEX. I LISTS OF AFRICAN ARTEFACTS IN FRANCE,MUSÉE DU QUAI BRANLY-JACQUES CHIRAC( Published in Sarr-Savoy Report on Restitution)
ANNEX II AFRICAN UNION PRESS RELEASE ON RESTITUTION
On the sidelines of the 33rd Assembly of the African Union held in Addis Ababa, twelve Heads of State solemnly accepted the invitation of His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, President of the Republic of Mali, African Union leader for Arts, Culture and Heritage to act as co-champions.
Upon his designation as African Union Leader for Arts, Culture and Heritage, His Excellency the President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, found it appropriate to establish a presidential level structure to carry out his mission. Thus, he invited twelve Heads of State to join him in a Council of the Peers.
The twelve Heads of State, from the five regions of the continent, are:
President of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca.
President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.
President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.
President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
President of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso.
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi.
Kingdom of Morocco, His Majesty Mohamed VI.
President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.
President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta.
President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, Mrs Sahle-Work Zewde .
President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.
President of Namibia, Hage Geingob.
The mandate of the Council is to formulate strategic orientations and to ensure that these orientations are taken into account in the activities of the African Union (AU). The members of this Council are also expected to play the role of leadership, advocacy and facilitation at the sub-regional level.
At the inaugural meeting of the Council, the twelve Heads of State committed themselves to give a pride of place to culture, arts and heritage.
In that framework, they adopted a draft resolution that will tabled with a view to declaring 2021 as the year of culture:
In addition, the twelve co-leaders commit themselves to:
Ø advocate for the ratification of the Charter for the African Cultural Renaissance.
Ø gather political and financial commitment of the member States for the African World Heritage Fund.
Ø promote culture as a tool for peace- building.
Ø develop creative industries generating economic development and outreach.
Ø preserve and develop African languages as a vehicle of communication, knowledge and culture; and
Ø speed up the return of cultural assets.
On all these subjects, the countries will work together with the relevant organs of the African Union and according to a principle of subsidiarity.
For further information please contact:
Esther Azaa Tankou | Head of Information Division | Directorate of Information and Communication | African Union Commission | Tel: +251911361185 | E-mail: email@example.com | www.au.int |Addis Ababa | Ethiopia
Mr. Gamal Eldin Ahmed A. Karrar | Senior Communication Officer | Directorate of Information and Communications | African Union Commission | Tel: Tel: (251) 11 551 77 00 | Ext: 2573| E-mail: GamalK@africa-union.org | www.au.int |Addis Ababa | Ethiopia
Directorate of Information and Communication | African Union Commission I E-mail: DIC@african-union.org I Website: www.au.int I Addis Ababa | Ethiopia Follow Us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
PressRelease,10 February 2020.
Musée des Civilisations Noires, Dakar, Sénégal.
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Ato ceremony, Kingdom of Dahomey, Republic of Benin, displayed at Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France.
Kwame Opoku, Dr., © 2020
The author has 273 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwameOpoku
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