French Commission To Urge Return Of Looted African Art

France's President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron will formally receive a report on Friday expected to recommend changes to French law to allow cultural artefacts seized from former African colonies to be returned to their home countries.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a meeting with French mayors at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France November 21, 2018. Thibault Camus

The report by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French art historian Benedicte Savoy marks a potential milestone in the fight by African countries to recover works pillaged by Western explorers and colonisers.

Macron became the first Western leader to initiate a comprehensive review of colonial loot earlier this year after telling Burkinabe students last year that “African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums”.

Some 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to now be in Europe. The Quai Branly Museum in Paris alone holds some 70,000 African objects, as does London’s British Museum, Savoy told Reuters earlier this year.

Western museums have traditionally resisted appeals to return objects to their countries of origin, which they often argue lack the necessary resources to care for the works.

According to French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation, which obtained copies of the report, Sarr and Savoy proposed amending the part of the patrimony law governing culture and heritage that forbids national collections from ceding these artefacts.

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