Belgian king, contrite over colonial past, to visit DR Congo
Belgium’s king will visit the DR Congo next month, the royal palace announced Wednesday, less than two years after he expressed regrets for his country’s colonial abuses.
elgium’s king will visit the DR Congo next month, the royal palace announced Wednesday, less than two years after he expressed regrets for his country’s colonial abuses.
King Philippe’s visit, his first to the country, will take place from March 6 to 10. He will be accompanied by his wife Mathilde, Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo and other ministers.
It will also be the first Belgian royal visit to the DRC since Albert II, Philippe’s father, travelled there in 2010 for the 50th anniversary of the former colony’s independence.
In 2020, on the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence, Philippe, in a letter to the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, expressed his regrets for his country’s chequered past.
“I want to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past whose pain is reawakened today by the discrimination still present in our societies,” Philippe said.
elgium’s colonisation of the vast mineral-rich country was one of the harshest regimes imposed by the European powers that ruled most of Africa in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
“Acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory,” Phillipe wrote.
The royal visit comes after the Belgian government began planning in July for the return to the DR Congo thousands of cultural objects wrongly acquired, particularly during the violence committed under the reign of Leopold II.
elgium is also preparing to return to Kinshasa a tooth of Patrice Lumumba, a hero of the anti-colonial struggle and short-lived first prime minister of the independent Congo.
Lumumba was murdered by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961, and his body dissolved in acid, but the tooth was kept as a trophy by one of his killers.
A ceremony to mark its return, originally scheduled for June 2021 in Brussels, had to be postponed because of the pandemic.
Historians say that millions of Africans from areas in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed, mutilated or died of disease as they worked on rubber plantations belonging to Leopold II, king from 1865-1909.
The growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen several colonial era statues removed in Belgium, and it has sparked deeper reflection on the country’s colonial past.