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France formally returns looted Benin artworks at Élysée ceremony

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted his counterpart from Benin, President Patrice Talon, on Tuesday to formally seal an agreement to return 26 artworks taken from the former French colony’s Palace of Abomey – today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

More than a century after French colonial troops ransacked a West African royal palace and took its treasures, President Emmanuel Macron of France on Wednesday began the formal transfer of 26 of those artifacts to Benin in the first large-scale act of restitution to Africa by a former European colonial power. Mr. Macron spoke at a ceremony at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where the objects are on display for the last time, through Oct. 31. The president will complete the transfer in a signing ceremony with President Patrice Talon of Benin at the Élysée Palace, after which the treasures will permanently leave France.

The restitution of the objects is a tangible and powerfully symbolic result of a confluence of events in Europe: a belated reckoning with its colonial past, fueled by a contemporary questioning of sexism, racism, and other social inequalities.

That re-examination has been particularly fraught in France, which maintained strong ties to its former colonies in Africa decades after they became officially independent. The restitution is part of Mr. Macron’s attempt to reset relations with them even as he has tried to deflect a conservative backlash domestically.


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