Belgian King Expresses Regret to Congolese People…
On a recent trip to the Congo, King Philippe of Belgium communicated deep “regrets” for the past relationship Belgium had with the Congo, its former colony. On Wednesday, June 8th, King Philippe made his first official trip to the nation since assuming the throne in July 2013.
In a speech to the national legislature in Kinshasa, the national capital formerly known as Leopoldville for King Leopold II of Belgium, Philippe acknowledged that the colonial regime-held over the Congo by Belgium was “based on exploitation and domination.”
King Philippe continued, “This regime was that of an unequal relationship, in itself unjustifiable, marked by paternalism, discrimination, and racism.”
Though the royal expressed his regrets for the past, he did not issue a formal apology. When asked, many Congolese citizens say that any apology given by their previous colonial rulers must also come with financial or monetary reparations.
Francis Kambale, a 26-year-old student said, “Belgium must ask for forgiveness from the Congolese people but also compensate them. Our grandparents were beaten like animals, others were killed. But also many minerals and cultural goods were stolen by Belgium.”
In 2020, the Congo celebrated the 60th anniversary of independence from Belgium. They took down a statue of King Leopold II, who was the owner and absolute ruler of the Congo for over 40 years. It is estimated that approximately 10 million Congolese citizens were killed during the time of King Leopold’s ruling.
Though many minerals and resources were taken from the Congo, one of the most profitable resources was rubber. In the event that a village would come short of their rubber collection quota from the trees in the nearby areas, the colonial powers would cut their hands off.
The public’s reception of the King’s visit was mixed. A salesman in the central market in Kinshasa said, “They left us isolated, abandoned. They pillaged all our resources, and today you invite the Belgian king again?”
Still on King Philippe’s Message to the Congolese…
Another Congolese citizen said, “My feeling is that we should start having good Congolese-Belgium relations again, like before. Despite what the Belgians did to us during colonization, we are ready to forgive.”
The King, his wife Queen Mathilde, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De croo all participated in the official visit to the Congo. Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Congo, was enthusiastic about the week-long visit from the royal family.
In a joint press conference with the Prime Minister, the president announced that he would be focussing on attracting investments and strengthening cooperation with Belgium in regard to health care and education for the people of the Congo.
On the day King Philippe arrived, he granted top honor to Former Corporal Albert Kunyku, the last known living Congolese veteran of World War II. Kunyku, 100, fought on behalf of Belgium at the age of 18.
In a trend that is recently garnering more attention, King Philppe gave a mask that originally belonged to the Suku people of the Congo to the nation’s national museum.
This mask, which was a victim of the nation’s pillaging, has been on display at the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa for decades. In 2021, France returned 26 artifacts to Benin, a West African nation.
Many art historians have begun to apply pressure to Western museums to return most of the “colonial loot”, including stolen artifacts and artwork, back to their rightful owners.
Belgium is also expected to hand over a tooth belonging to Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first Prime Minister, to his living descendants this month. The death of Lumumba, who died in 1961, was suspected to be foul play with many pointing fingers at the Belgian government for having a hand in his assassination.
In 2002, the government assumed partial responsibility amidst the release of incriminating details and evidence.