France returns antique sword to Senegal

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Senegal President Macky Sall (R) receives the sword El Hadj Omar Saidou Tall during a ceremony with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe at the Palace of the Republic in Dakar, Senegal, on November 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

France has returned to Senegal an antique sword that belonged to a 19th Century Islamic scholar and ruler.

The restoration of the sabre is part of a commitment by France to return key items of heritage to West African countries.

The returned artefact was handed over to President Macky Sall by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in a ceremony held in Dakar.

"This is an historic day," President Sall said.

The artefact originally belonged to a revered West African leader, Omar Saidou Tall, who led an anti-colonial struggle against the French.

Some of Omar Tall's descendants were present at the handover ceremony in the capital.

The French government’s decision to return stolen artefacts to Africa came after a report in November 2018 urged former colonisers to return items of heritage to their original countries.

The report, commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron and compiled by French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, recommends that the thousands of items in French museums taken without consent during the colonial period be returned to the continent.

Saidou Tall was a political leader, military commander and Muslim scholar who led the Tidjane brotherhood, a Sufi order in West Africa.

He fought French troops from 1857 to 1859 before signing a peace treaty with them in 1860. According to Senegalese historians, he disappeared mysteriously from the cliffs of Bandiagara in Mali, an area known for its dramatic landscape, in 1864.