Macron Intends to Return France’s Stolen African Art

Though France can’t figure out whether or not it wants to deport African immigrants, it might be ready to send away some African art.

An independent report commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron is calling out museums in France (and in Europe at large) for holding onto African artifacts that were spoils of war during France’s colonial period. Thousands of statues and pieces of palaces or temples were taken during the late 1800s and as late as the 1960s, or were “borrowed” later on and never returned. The report stated that 90% of Africa’s “material cultural legacy” is housed outside of the continent, many of it in French museums. Chief among the accused “borrowers” is the Musée du Quai Branly, a museum entirely comprised of art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. And visiting the Musée du Quai Branly, being surrounded by 70,000 works of African art, it feels impossible — and almost obscene — that all of that cultural property is still considered property of the French State.

Macron will face steep legal trouble if he wants to go about repatriating this stolen (or “borrowed”) art. It’s something he’s previously expressed a desire to do, specifically last year during a visit to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Many experts say that French law makes it impossible to return these items; for example, on Friday he pledged to return 26 pieces of art to Benin, but he’ll still need to pass new legislation permitting it.

It’s a controversial move, but with most of France protesting in the streets, his approval rating can’t go much lower.