It had to happen sooner or later. And this is later since it was in 1996 that the late Senegal president Leopold Senghor broached the idea of a museum to feature the civilizations of black Africa. Now the country’s minister of culture Abdou Latif Coulibaly has demanded the return of all its artwork in French museums.

He may have unwittingly started a movement to #GiveBackTheArt. Both Benin and Cameroon are talking about getting back their artworks. Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mali have similarly had their national treasures stolen and are also expecting repatriation. Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III  of the Duala people of Cameroon was reported to have said: "This is not just about the return of African art. When someone's stolen your soul, it's very difficult to survive as a people."

In trying to atone for French misdeeds in the colonial era, President Emmanuel Macron had asked French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to study the issue of repatriation of African art. The release of their report started what may become a worldwide controversy. 

Experts estimate that nearly 90 percent of African art is in European museums or elsewhere. The Quai Branly Museum in Paris alone has thousands of pieces looted from the continent. These include exquisitely carved masks, richly adorned thrones, wooden statues full of spiritual meaning and ancient manuscripts  Of course, France is not the only culprit. The British, Germans and Belgians have done their share of looting. 

The head of the Quai isn’t happy to return to Africa the art his museum holds. He was quoted as saying he would prefer that they be circulated more widely. What arrogance!


Many European museums attract audiences precisely because of what they have looted from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. It gives them a hold on other people’s history a platform from which to tell their stories. 

We may have to thank Macron for letting the cat out of the bag. One thing is certain, people of African descent around the world are watching this issue unfold and are not likely to take kindly if France or other European continue to hold looted art. The word in the African Diaspora is: #GiveBackTheArt.