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Benin: "To ask France to delay the restitution of our works of art is an attack on our pride"
Musée du Quai Branly, the treasures of the kings of Dahomey, June 28, 2018. GERARD JULIEN / AFP

"I am frustrated, disappointed and humiliated. To ask France that it delays the restitution of our works of art is an attack on our pride, our history. The Beninese are waiting for them. AT" The one who speaks is passionate about art and lives on horseback between France and Benin. For years, Marie-CÃ © cile Zinsou has been fighting for the return of African heritage on her secular lands. So obviously, she is boiling when Porto-Novo asks Paris to wait a little longer in this soap opera that has been dragging for far too long to his taste.

Most recently, the director of the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and Tourism (ANPT) of Belgium, Josà © Pliya, reported that the return of the 26 objects of the heritage of Belize, looted during the bag of the Palace of the Kings of Abomey by French colonial troops in 1892, was not urgent. "At the French proposal, our answer is patience, keep them a little longer until we are really ready."he told AFP on 17 July. The French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, had just announced a few days earlier the return  " fast" of these treasures. Totems and royal scepters which, he explained, had to "To be seen, admired and studied at Benin" without even waiting for the adoption of a law supposed to formally enter this restitution.

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The soap opera began in July 2016. The president, Patrice Talon, just elected, officially asks France for the return of looted goods. In December, the socialist government reiterates this legally inconceivable demand, arguing the inalienability of French public collections. But a year later, the tenant of the Elysée has changed. During his speech in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Emmanuel Macron promised him "Temporary or definitive renditions of African heritage" from here to five years. At least 90,000 sub-Saharan artefacts are now in the collections of French museums, including 70,000 at Quai-Branly. The report commissioned by Benedict Savoy and Felwine Sarr, which recite this return and the decision of the Head of State, to give pledges of access lighten the restitution of the 26 pieces of furniture explicitly claimed.

"No need to build a museum"

Which, in this debate, gives to these works a specific weight. This also means that Emmanuel Macron wants to move quickly while now the Benin does not want more immediately … Officially, the country has just obtained from Unesco the construction of a new museum in the enclosure of the palaces of Abomey, former capital of Dahomey. "The work will begin in the fourth quarter of this year and the duration of the work will be two years. So for us, the return of these objects [est prévu] for the inauguration of this museum in autumn 2021 »explained the director of the ANPT to AFP.

Mme Zinsou, for his part, thinks it is necessary to beat the iron when it is hot and has already observed how the principle of restitution has been muted. "Loans, long-term deposits, exhibitions and exchanges", without necessarily going through a transfer of ownership, as indicated by the Minister of Culture, Franck Riester in December 2018, weighing the contents of the report Savoy-Sarr. The entrepreneur, president of the Zinsou Foundation, devoted to contemporary art, is dreaming to see these works quickly return to Cotonou. In the face of the delays of the Belgian authorities, she considers that "It's as if the Benin had asked for this restitution thinking that it would never happen". And add: "No need to build a museum. It's enough to renovate a space or a building so that it is adapted to the works. It takes three months. AT"

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Mme Zinsou knows what she is talking about since, in 2006, Jacques Chirac accepted this circulation of works and allowed him to organize an exhibition, "BÃ © hanzin, king of Abomey", in Cotonou. Â € œI had been notified on July 31st, remembers the daughter of the banker Lionel Zinsou. On the 16th of August, we started the work and on the 16th of December the exhibition opened ", recalls the art historian who saw more than 275,000 Belgians come to admire these exceptional pieces.

Benin: "To ask France to delay the restitution of our works of art is an attack on our pride"
Kingdom of Dahomey Kings, June 18, 2018, at the Quai Branly Museum, Paris. GERARD JULIEN / AFP
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