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Getting Back African Artifacts At All Costs

Mr. Mwazulu Diyabanza, the spokesman for a Pan-African movement that seeks reparations for colonialism, slavery and cultural expropriation, is set to stand trial in Paris on Sept. 30. Along with the four associates from the Quai Branly action, he will face a charge of attempted theft, in a case that is also likely to put France on the stand for its colonial track record and for holding so much of sub-Saharan Africa’s cultural heritage — 90,000 or so objects — in its museums. President Emmanuel Macron pledged in 2017 to give back much of Africa’s heritage held by France’s museums, and commissioned two academics to draw up a report on how to do it. The 2018 report, by Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr, said any artifacts removed from sub-Saharan Africa in colonial times should be permanently returned if they were “taken by force, or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions,” and if their countries of origin asked for them. Only 27 restitutions have been announced so far, and just one object has been returned. Mr. Diyabanza is not alone in staging museum actions. On Friday, a London court found Isaiah Ogundele, 34, guilty on a harassment charge over a protest in a slavery-related gallery at the Museum of London. According to a statement from the museum, the demonstration took place in January in front of four African works on loan from the British Museum.