French President Emmanuel Macron has created a surprise during his tour of West Africa, declaring that he wants “a return of African heritage to Africa”. A phrase that gives hope to Benin, after months of negotiations.
“The African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, Lagos, Cotonou,” said the French president.
“This will be one of my priorities. In the next five years, I want conditions to be reunited for a return of African heritage to Africa, “he said.
Macron revealed this at the end of his augural speech at the University of Ouagadougou , this sentence resonated especially in Benin, whose President Patrice Talon made an official request for a return of part of the Beninese heritage in July 2016.
President Talon, who has campaigned against the influence of France in his former colony, said: “better inform our people the value of our cultural and historical assets” and “tourism a major pillar of the Beninese economy “.
Irénée Zevounou, the ambassador of Benin’s delegation to UNESCO, estimates that “4,500 to 6,000 objects (Beninese) are in France, including in private collections”.
The capture of the treasures of the Kingdom of Dahomey was made during the colonial battles between 1892 and 1894, but also by the missionaries who “dispossessed the population of what they considered fetishes,” says Zevounou.
“This is the first time that a French president has addressed the issue head-on and expressed his desire to go in the direction of restitution,” wrote immediately Marie-Cecile Zinsou, founder of the Zinsou Foundation in Cotonou on her page Facebook.
“It could be that the Ouagadougou speech marks a major turning point in the rest of the procedures,” rejoices this amateur of Franco-Beninese art.
Many other supporters of a return of works of the kingdom of Dahomey – royal thrones, reeds (royal scepters), sacred doors of the Abomey Palace, anthropomorphic statues … – have since expressed themselves, as Louis-Georges Tin, President of the Council representative of the black associations of France (CRAN).
In a press briefing, CRAN President welcomes a “historic break” in the debate, and proposes that the UN Human Rights Council take part in negotiations between the two countries: “It is is a question of culture, but also of a question of right “.
Law is what blocks in this thorny and particularly sensitive issue.
The French authorities had so far ranked behind “the legal principles of inalienability and imprescriptibility of public collections,” to argue their refusal to restore works, now fallen into the French heritage.
For Yves-Bernard Debie, a lawyer specializing in the law of the art trade, Emmanuel Macron’s “sliced” speech breaks with the French legal tradition established in 1566 by the “Edict of Moulins”.
“Since that time, the royal estate, which has since become the public domain, is inalienable and imprescriptible. It is forbidden, with rare exceptions, to the prince, king or President of the Republic, to dispose of this domain. Heads of State pass, the public domain remains! “Says the lawyer to AFP.
Such restitution would therefore require changing the French law.
“It may be a little naive on my part, but I hope that relations improve between France and its partners in Africa,” dares Ousmane Aledji, director of the Benin cultural center ARTISTTIK AFRICA. “I prefer to be today in hope of the best”.