France to return 26 works of art to Benin
Submission of the Savoy/Sarr report on the restitution of African heritage – Communiqué issued by the Presidency of the Republic
Paris, 23 November 2018
On Friday 23 November 2018, the French President hosted a meeting with Mr Felwine Sarr, Professor at Gaston Berger University, Saint-Louis (Senegal) and Ms Bénédicte Savoy, Professor at the Technical University of Berlin (Germany) and holder of an international chair at the Collège de France, on the occasion of the submission of their report on “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Towards a New Relational Ethics”.
The President commissioned the report in March, following his speech at the University of Ouagadougou on 28 November 2017, in which he expressed the wish that, “within five years, the conditions will exist for temporary or definitive returns of African heritage to Africa”. The President welcomed work of remembrance on colonization, which provides new clarification on the circumstances of “heritage seizures” and the specific characteristics of the African heritage case.
When the report was submitted, the President entrusted the Minister of Culture and the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs with responsibility for taking the next steps, which are decisive for achieving the goal set for the initiative: for young Africans to have access in Africa and no longer just in Europe to their own heritage and humanity’s common heritage. In line with his commitment, the President would like all possible forms of movement of these works to be considered: restitutions, but also exhibitions, loans, storage, cooperation projects etc.
The President has invited museums to play a key role in this process: to identify African partners, organize the possible restitution, movement and dissemination of works, and take the necessary means – with the cooperation of teachers and researchers specialized in this field – to swiftly create and put online an inventory of the African collections they hold, including systematic research into origins. The need for in-depth work with other European countries that hold collections of the same nature acquired in similar circumstances was also emphasized.
Consistent with the initiative undertaken, and at the proposal of the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and the Ministry of Culture, the President has decided to immediately return 26 works claimed by the authorities in Benin, looted by General Dodds from [King] Behanzin’s palace following the bloody fighting of 1892. These works will be able to be displayed to the Beninese and international public as part of the ambitious museums plan presented by the Republic of Benin. He thanks the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac for supporting this restitution. Operational and, if necessary, legislative measures will be taken to ensure the works can return to Benin, together with the expertise of the museum, which has conserved them until now.
The President proposes convening all the African and European partners in Paris in the first quarter of 2019 to build, together, this new relationship and policy of exchanges. Directly in line with his speeches in Athens, Abu Dhabi and Algiers, the President recalled his desire to implement a heritage policy geared to the future, based on a search for the universal and the inclusion of works of art in humanity’s common heritage./.