France Returns to Senegal an 18th-Century Saber That It Looted During the Colonial Period
As a symbolic gesture of France’s commitment in its dedication to restoring African cultural heritage, French Prime Minister Edouard Philip handed the historic sword to the President of Senegal Macky Sall.
Omar Saïdou Tall, a leading Muslim religious leader in the 19th century who fought French colonialists in the 1850s in a region of West Africa that is now Senegal.
Decades later, French troops seized its possessions including the sword.
The act followed one year after a report by the French president Emmanuel Macron was published that recommends the return of African artifacts in French museums.
There are about 90,000 Sub-Saharan artifacts in French public collections, many of them looted or acquired during the colonial era. Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.
France has yet to make good on Macron’s pledges: nothing has as yet been definitively returned, and a promised conference on the subject has yet to materialise.
Permanent repatriations will also require a change in French law, which deems museum collections to be “inalienable.”
Today’s ceremony is, therefore “not strictly speaking restitution,” the French government said in a statement.
The sword, whose leather handle is trimmed with a base shaped like a bird’s beak, has already been on display in Senegal’s new Museum of Black Civilisations as a loan from the Musée de L’armée in Paris.
Nonetheless, Sall welcomed the return as “historic,” saying it signals “a new chapter in French-Senegalese relations.”