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Belgian king urges Congo students to exploit mineral wealth

Belgium’s King Philippe on Friday urged students in DR Congo to exploit the country’s enormous mineral wealth for its own benefit, during a historic trip to the former Belgian colony.

In a speech at the university of Lubumbashi, the king hailed the difficult sacrifices made by the students and their families in order to pursue an education.

“Congo possesses an abundance of wealth in its subsoil,” Philippe said, telling the assembled students to use their skills “to get the most value out of these riches” for the Congolese people.

Lubumbashi is the main city in the DRC’s copper and cobalt-rich southeast.

The vast central African nation of 90 million people is one of the poorest in the world despite its mineral riches.

Philippe also said the DRC also held huge agricultural potential, and called the Congo rainforest an “ecological resource” essential to fighting climate change.

The Belgian sovereign arrived in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa on Tuesday for a six-day visit billed as an opportunity for reconciliation between the country and its former colonial master.

Belgium’s colonisation of the Congo was one of the harshest imposed by the European powers that ruled most of Africa in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

King Leopold II, the brother of Philippe’s great great grandfather, oversaw the conquest of what is now the DRC, governing the territory as his personal property between 1885 and 1908 before it became a Belgian colony.

Millions of people perished under a system of forced rubber collection under his rule, historians estimate. The land was also pillaged for its mineral wealth, timber and ivory.

This week, Philippe said the colonial regime had inflicted pain and humiliation through a mixture of “paternalism, discrimination and racism”.

He fell short of offering an apology for the colonial period, however.

On Sunday, the Belgian king will visit the clinic of gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against sexual violence, in the eastern city of Bukavu.

Much of eastern DRC is prey to myriad rebel groups and civilian massacres are routine.