France Agrees to Return Stolen African Artwork to Benin


26 pieces of artwork stolen from West Africa during the colonial era will be returned to their country of origin.

According to a report from the BBC, French President, Emmanuel Macron, has ordered the thrones and statues, currently on display in France’s Quai Branly Museum, to be sent back to Benin “without delay.” The pieces were taken during a colonial war against The Kingdom of Dahomey in 1892 that effectively dissolved the West African nation after nearly three centuries of sovereignty. 

Macron’s statement reflects the recommendation of a commissioned panel of experts, and arrives years after Benin formally requested the return of the artworks. It’s a step in the right direction, no doubt, and it appears that Benin’s “pleased” by this “new form of cultural exchange,” per Ousmane Aledji, director of Benin’s Artisttik Africa. However, the same report found that most of the museum’s Africa exhibition — amounting to roughly 46,000 pieces — was acquired with “some degree of duress.”

So there’s still a long way to go, and as Diane Abbott, noted on Twitter, “all eyes turn to The British Museum,” where priceless bronzes plundered by The Brits during an 1897 imperial expedition remain over a century after Benin City’s destruction, and nearly 60 years after Nigeria’s independence from Britain. Nigeria is currently negotiating for their return on loan, according to a report from The Independent.