5 years after Emmanuel Macron’s promise, where are the returns of objects looted from Africa?

AA/Nice/Feïza Ben Mohamed

On November 28, 2017, in Ouagadougou, French President Emmanuel Macron made a pledge, in front of 800 students, at the dawn of his first term.

This commitment still assumes a very particular importance today since it aimed to restore the works looted from Africa during the colonization.

“African heritage must be able to be exhibited in Africa” ​​and “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of various African countries is in France”, declared the Head of State, expressing the wish “that “for five years from now on the conditions for the temporary or permanent return of African heritage to Africa will be met”.

To take stock of the situation, Macron appointed two experts in 2018 to study and provide their recommendations on the return of African works.

They are Bénédicte Savoy, art historian and member of the Collège de France, and Felwine Sarr, Senegalese writer and academic, in charge of examining the conditions under which works can be repatriated and preserved in their countries of origin.

But after five years, it would seem that the restitution processes, which require a legislative basis, are much more complex and that only a few works have been able to find their homeland.

According to a study by the newspaper Le Monde, as many as 90,000 objects belonging to Africa are still kept today in French public museums and considered “inalienable”.

On 24 December 2020, a law relating to the restitution of cultural assets to the Republic of Benin and the Republic of Senegal was definitively adopted by the French parliament, allowing the two countries to recover, in the meantime, the 26 works of the Abomey treasure, requested by Benin , and the so-called El Hadj Omar Tall saber and scabbard from Senegal.

Requested for some time by the Ivory Coast, the Djidji Ayokwé, an emblematic drum of a local tribe, is itself undergoing restoration before being returned to Abidjan.

For its part, the crown of Ranavalona III, the last queen of Madagascar, was returned to Antananarivo in November 2020 but without the necessary law having been passed to formalize this return, and therefore without any official legal framework.

Mali, Chad and Ethiopia claim ownership of several thousand works, most of which are on display at the Quai Branly museum.

According to the report presented to Emmanuel Macron in November 2018 and written by Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr, no less than 85-90% of African heritage is found outside the continent.

The Quai Branly museum is naturally the hardest hit as of the 70,000 works displayed there, two thirds were acquired between 1885 and 1960 and therefore potentially fall under the scope of heritage theft.

But beyond the works of art, there are other “objects” which are held by France thanks to very questionable historical processes.

The most emblematic case of the last year is undoubtedly the question of the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters exhibited at the Musée de l’Homme, 24 of which were returned to Algiers in July 2020.

The official request, issued by the Algerian authorities in December 2017, was able to be successful thanks to the meticulous work of the Algerian archaeologist and historian Ali Farid Belkadi.

In 2011, the researcher identified 68 skulls that belonged to Algerian anti-colonialist fighters in the famous museum located in the heart of the Trocadéro in Paris.

The French authorities had taken to the habit, during the colonial era, of sending the decapitated heads of those they considered enemies to France, to preserve them, giving them the value of a war trophy.

At the end of his identification work, Ali Farid Belkadi took the initiative to write a petition asking for “the repatriation to Algeria of the funeral remains of Algerian resistance fighters preserved in French museums”.

Among the mummified heads there are in particular “the skulls that belonged to Mohamed Lamjad Ben Abdelmalek, known as Chérif “Boubaghla”, to Cheikh Bouziane, leader of the Zaatcha revolt, to Moussa El-Derkaoui, to Si Mokhtar Ben Kouider Al -Titraoui”, says the petition.

But last October, a New York Times investigation revealed that of the 24 skulls, only 6 could be formally identified as belonging to Algerian resistance fighters, casting doubt on the nature of the other human remains returned to Algeria. .

Five years after his promise, Emmanuel Macron appears so far from the goal he has set for himself, namely the return of African goods to their continent of origin.

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