Experts appointed by President Emmanuel Macron will advise him on Friday to allow the return of thousands of African artworks held in French museums, a radical shift in policy which could put pressure on other former colonial powers.
Calls have been growing in Africa for the restitution of its cultural treasures, but French law strictly forbids the government from ceding state property, even in well-documented cases of pillaging.
Yet Macron raised hopes for a change during a speech in Burkina Faso in November last year, saying “Africa’s heritage cannot just be in European private collections and museums.”
He later asked French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to study the matter, and they are to present Macron with their report on Friday.
According to a copy seen by AFP, they recommend amending French law to allow the restitution of cultural works if bilateral accords are struck between France and African states.
The change would apply in particular to works held in museums which were “transferred from their original territory during the French colonial period,” the report said.
“We propose changing heritage laws so that all types of cases can be taken into account, and the criteria of consentment can be invoked,” Sarr told French daily Liberation in an article posted late Tuesday.
The report was welcomed by advocates of the restitution of works which were bought, bartered and in some cases simply stolen.
“Today it feels as if we’re just a step away from recovering our history and being finally able to share it on the continent,” Marie-Cecile Zinsou, a daughter of Benin’s former prime minister and president of the Zinsou Art Foundation in Cotonou, told AFP.