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France is set to return stolen artifacts to Benin, an African country that is a former French territory.
The African artifacts were obtained by France 126 years ago. France decided to return these historical pieces after a report about African works in French museums was published. According to the report, roughly 90% of African cultural heritages are not on the continent. Moreover, about 90,000 African artworks are on display in French museums.
The report’s authors recommended that France return the stolen pieces to the African nations where the artworks originated. In addition, the report stated that there is a need to create a global inventory of stolen artworks.
Following the report’s release, French President Emmanuel Macron / ˈma-krən / ordered the immediate return of 26 items, including statues stolen from the Palaces of Abomey /ˌæb.əˈmeɪ/. The president also proposed a meeting between the leaders of Africa and Europe in 2019 to discuss and create an exchange policy for African cultural heritage.
Although some African nations received the decision positively, some art dealers and museum administrators in France expressed their misgivings about the expected law changes. Some said that changing the policy on stolen artifacts may eventually leave museums and galleries in Western countries empty.
Additionally, private French collectors may feel compelled to relocate their collections as France may soon confiscate the African artworks in their possession. Another concern is that African museums might be unable to handle and protect the precious artifacts.