George Soros’s Foundation Is Launching a $15 Million Initiative to Repatriate Cultural Objects to African Nations

The project will support African organizations campaigning for the return of artifacts taken during the colonial era.

Hungarian-born US investor and philanthropist George Soros. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.
Hungarian-born US investor and philanthropist George Soros. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.

Last November, French President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a report recommending the repatriation of looted African cultural objects from France’s public collections, spurring a national debate. But one year later, no objects have been returned to the areas from which they were taken.

Now, an organization is stepping in to facilitate the process. The Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making organization founded by billionaire George Soros, has launched a four year, $15 million initiative to aid in restitution efforts. 

“The legacy of colonial violence has deep implications for the ways that racism and imbalances of power are perpetuated today,” Patrick Gaspard, the president of the organization, said in a statement. “This isn’t just about returning pieces of art, but about restoring the very essence of these cultures.”

The Open Society’s initiative will support African lawyers, scholars, archivists, and grassroots organizations campaigning for the return of artifacts taken during the colonial era. It will also fund meetings between cultural leaders and work to promote partnerships between museums, governments, and other organizations. 

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Ouagadougou University on November 28, 2017. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at Ouagadougou University in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images.

In the groundbreaking 108-page report commissioned by Macron, the study’s authors, the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy and the Senegalese academic Felwine Sarr, advocate for a strict, across-the-board repatriation policy. All artifacts acquired through “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, and forced consent” should be permanently returned, they wrote. 

The report, released last November, came one year after a historic speech by Macron in which he promised to make restitution a “priority” over the next five years.

“I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France,” he said during a visit to the West African republic of Burkina Faso.

“There are historical explanations for that, but there are no valid justifications that are durable and unconditional. African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums.”

Since then, France has yet to repatriate any objects, according to The Art Newspaper


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