French MPs have approved the return of looted historical artefacts to Benin and Senegal, completing the legislative process needed to give back the objects.
Benin will receive 26 artefacts taken from the Palace of Behanzin in the late 19th century, including a royal throne, which are currently exhibited at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris.
Senegal will get back a 19th-century sword once wielded by a 19th century sheikh. The sword and its scabbard are part of France’s Army Museum collection but are currently on show in Dakar as part of a long-term loan.
MPs approved the restitutions on Thursday with 48 votes in favour, none against and two abstentions.
Former colonial powers across Europe are facing intensifying demands to return stolen objects, with Britain often in the eye of the storm for the plundered artefacts that stuff its museum shelves. Critics also rounded on Germany on Wednesday as it opened a refurbished museum in Berlin awash with items from Africa and Asia.
French President Emmanuel Macron is among several European leaders to have pledged to restore ownership of looted treasures. The country’s museums are home to tens of thousands of objects, mostly from Africa. Thursday’s agreement flowed from Macron’s desire to “renew and deepen the partnership between France and the African continent”, said Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot.
Benin will receive 26 pieces of the Treasure of Behanzin that was looted in 1892, including the throne of King Glele – a centrepiece of some 70,000 African objects held at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris. Senegal will recover full ownership of a sword and scabbard that possibly belonged to 19th century military and religious figure Omar Saidou Tall.
The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour, endorsing the move on behalf of parliament after the Senate refused to agree.
Following an earlier parliamentary vote in October, Benin’s museums chief Alain Godonou said he expected the 26 items to be back in his country “within a year”. An expert report commissioned by Macron in 2018 counted some 90,000 African works in French museums, most of them at the Quai Branly.