On Thursday 16 July 2020, the French government introduced a draft law in parliament around the restitution of cultural assets to Benin and Senegal, in line with moves taken by President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 following the release of the Sarr-Savoy report.
This draft law could lead to the restitution to Benin of 26 artefacts from the royal treasure of Abomey taken by the French army during its conquest of the kingdom of Danxome (Dahomey) in 1892 and currently held in the Quai Branly museum in Paris.
This is a decisive step forward. It comes nearly four years after the official request by Benin to the French government, in a letter from its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aurelien Agbenonci, which his French counterpart at the time, Jean-Marc Ayrault, at first refused to accept.
Negotiations between the two sides resumed after President Macron's speech in Ouagadougou in November 2017. Since then, Benin has favoured a pragmatic approach which has so far yielded significant results.
By specifically targeting the royal treasure of Abomey in its request in 2016, the government of Benin has been very precise from the start. Benin's strategy favours negotiation, cooperation and ongoing political dialogue with France at all relevant levels of decision-making, policy and technical, to secure the restitution of cultural property it has long claimed.
Between 2016 and 2020, three meetings between the Heads of State of the two countries took place in Paris. It was during the meeting between President Patrice Talon and President Macron in March 2018 that the formal review entrusted to Benedicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr on the restitution of African heritage was announced.
And it was after the submission of this report to President Macron that the intention to return 26 artefacts to the Beninese authorities was declared. Since then, there have been several ministerial and technical exchanges between the two countries to define a joint roadmap for their restitution.
Progress at each step has been consolidated by joint official actions: particularly the General Framework Agreement signed in Paris in March 2018 and the Joint Working Programme signed in Cotonou in December 2019 during the visit to Benin by then French Culture Minister Franck Riester.
Finally, in line with the Sarr-Savoy recommendations, both countries have agreed to support restitution with an ambitious...