The Belgian king apologizes again for the colonial era in Congo, but no apology

  • King on first visit since he took the throne
  • Again, stop apologizing for colonial atrocities
  • Congolese President says we must look ahead

KINSHASA, June 8 (Reuters) – King Philippe of Belgium on Wednesday reaffirmed his deepest apologies for the exploitation, racism and violence during the country’s colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but again stopped apologizing.

Philippe became the first Belgian official two years ago to apologize for the colonization, and some Congolese readers hoped he would make a formal apology during his first visit to the Congo since taking the throne in 2013.

“Although many Belgians sincerely invested and loved the Congo and its people deeply, the colonial regime itself was based on exploitation and domination,” he told a joint session of parliament in the capital Kinshasa.

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“This regime was an unequal relationship, indefensible in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he said.

“It led to acts of violence and humiliation. On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, right here, in front of the Congolese people and those who are still suffering today, I want to reaffirm my deepest apologies for the wounds of the past.”

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and many politicians have enthusiastically welcomed Philippe’s visit. A large number of supporters of the ruling party waved Belgian flags, and a banner hung from the parliament read: “A common story”.

But others were disappointed by the absence of an apology.

According to some estimates, the killing, famine and disease caused the deaths of up to 10 million Congolese readers during the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule from 1885 to 1960, when King Leopold II ruled the Congolese Free State as a personal county.

Villages that missed out on rubber collection quotas were notoriously designed to give cut-off hands instead.

“I salute the speech of the Belgian king. But in the face of the crimes committed by Belgium, remorse is not enough,” Congolese opposition senator Francine Muyumba Nkanga wrote on Twitter.

“We expect an apology and a promise of redress from him. That is the price for definitely turning the page,” she said.

Nadia Nsayi, a political scientist specializing in Congo, said she felt “a lot of nervousness in Belgium regarding a formal apology as Congo could use it to claim financial compensation”. read more

MASK RETURN

Philippe arrived on Tuesday with his wife, Queen Mathilde, and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo for a week-long visit.

Tshisekedi said during a brief press conference with De Croo that he was focused on increasing cooperation with Belgium to attract investment and improve health care in the Congo.

The relationship had soured under Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Joseph Kabila, whom Brussels criticized for suppressing dissent and extending his time in power beyond legal limits.

“We have not dwelt on the past, which is the past and which should not be reconsidered, but we must look to the future,” Tshisekedi said.

Some Kinshasa residents also said they hoped the visit would bring investment. “Despite what the Belgians did to us during the colonization, we are ready to forgive,” said Antoine Mubidiki.

Philippe previously offered a traditional mask of the Suku people to the Congolese National Museum as an “indefinite loan”. The mask has been held for decades by the Belgian Royal Museum of Central Africa.

Belgium has traditionally said little about colonialism, and the subject has not been taught much in Belgian schools.

Last year, however, Germany apologized to Namibia for its role in the slaughter of tribesmen from Herero and Nama more than a century ago, officially describing it as genocide for the first time and agreeing to fund projects worth over a billion euros. read more

This has been the beginning of a historic settlement in Belgium in recent years. During anti-racism protests triggered in 2020 by police killing George Floyd in the United States, protesters targeted statues of King Leopold II.

The Belgian parliament set up a commission shortly after to investigate the historic record. It comes with its final report this year.

Belgium will also hand over a tooth, suspected of being the only remains of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, to the family this month.

The Belgian government took partial responsibility in 2002 for the death of Lumumba, who was assassinated by Belgian-backed separatists in 1961.

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Reporting by Benoit Nyemba and Nellie Peyton; Author by Aaron Ross; Edited by Alison Williams

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.