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French President Hires Experts to Make Plans for Repatriation of Artifacts

President Emmanuel Macron has hired two experts—the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy—to begin working toward restituting African artworks. Macron made the announcement alongside the president of Benin, Patrice Talon, on Monday.

The appointments follow Macron’s pledge to make the return of artworks to Africa a “top priority.” When he was in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017, he told a packed auditorium filled with University of Ouagadougou students that “African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums . . . African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou.” He added, “In the next five years, I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa.”

While the issue of deciding what items will be returned is complicated, many leaders of French cultural institutions are supporting Macron’s unprecedented campaign to restitute objects. Stéphane Martin, the director of the ethnographic Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum in Paris, which holds thousands of artifacts, told the New York Times that “nowadays we cannot have an entire continent deprived of its history and artistic genius.”