France will return artworks taken from Benin during the colonial conquest of the region by the start of 2021, culture minister Franck Riester said on Monday on a visit to the West African country.
President Emmanuel Macron pledged last year to hand back 26 artefacts “without delay” in a landmark decision that has piled pressure on other former colonial powers to restore looted artworks to their countries of origin.
The pieces — including a royal throne — were seized by French troops over a century ago and have been housed at the Quai Branly museum in Paris.
Riester said the artworks would be returned “in the course of 2020, perhaps at the beginning of 2021” as he met with Benin’s president Patrice Talon in Cotonou.
Benin has welcomed France’s decision to return the objects, but has warned against doing so too quickly as it works to build a proper facility to showcase the heritage.
Benin’s culture minister Jean-Michel Abimbola told a joint press conference that the two countries had agreed that the artworks would be handed back “in several stages”.
He welcomed “the commitment of the French President to return these works” and “the opening of a broader discussion” concerning other artefacts.
The Kingdom of Dahomey — in what became modern-day Benin — reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries and became a major source of slaves for European traders before conquest by Paris in the 1890s ended its rule.