DRC: King Philippe of Belgium presents his ‘regrets for the wounds of the past’

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, in Kinshasa
Posted on Thursday, 9 June 2022 17:06

Belgium’s Queen Mathilde, Belgium’s King Philippe, First Lady of the DRC Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi arrive at the National Museum of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Kinshasa on June 8, 2022. © Arsene Mpiana/AFP

No forgiveness, no reparation, but regrets nonetheless. In front of DRC's President Félix Tshisekedi, ministers, deputies, senators and members of parliament gathered at the parliament headquarters in Kinshasa, King Philippe of Belgium reiterated today his regrets for the humiliations and exactions of which the Belgian colonial power was responsible on Congolese territory over several decades.

“Today, you wish to write a new chapter in our relations and look to the future, encouraged by the formidable youth of the Congolese people who only ask to develop their talents,” the King began by declaring to a crowd that was enthusiastic about a few words at the beginning of his speech in Lingala.

“Let us write this new chapter together. Without forgetting the past, but assuming it fully, in order to transmit to the new generation a thoughtful and peaceful memory of our common history.

‘Paternalism and racism’

An official apology was hoped for. It, was however, not provided. Philippe was content to acknowledge the horrors of colonisation: “Although many Belgians were sincerely invested, and deeply loving of the Congo and its people, the colonial regime as such was based on exploitation and domination. It was a regime of unequal relationships, inherently unjustifiable, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism. It gave rise to exactions and humiliations,” he said.

“On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, here in front of the Congolese people and to those who are still suffering, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past. Sincere regrets that I expressed in the letter I sent to you, Mr. President, two years ago now, for the 60th anniversary of independence,” said the King.

Philippe of Belgium began a six-day visit to the DRC on Tuesday 7 June. Shortly after his arrival, he saluted the merit and efforts made by the Congolese alongside Belgium during the two World Wars by decorating the last of the Congolese veterans, Albert Kunyuku, aged 100 years. The veteran was made a Commander of the Order of the Crown. The King also presented the National Museum of the DRC with a giant mask of the Suku people, as a symbolic gesture.

Agreements and heritage restitution

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, who spoke at a joint press briefing with the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, said they have no demands from Belgium. “We do not dwell on the past, which is the past and which is not to be revisited,” said Felix Tshisekedi after his tête-à-tête with the King at the Palace of the Nation. “The past, it is both glorious and sad (…), we want to look to the future,” he added, announcing that his country would sign several agreements with Belgium, including an economic one, along with ones in defence, culture and youth.

A memorandum of understanding on cultural and museum cooperation was signed on Wednesday 8 June between the two countries during the visit of the King and Queen to the National Museum in Kinshasa. This cooperation partnership is part of the restitution of the Congolese cultural heritage that had been looted during colonisation.

In July 2021, the Belgian government presented a roadmap for the restitution to the DRC of thousands of cultural objects that were wrongfully acquired, particularly during the violence committed under the reign of Leopold II between 1885 and 1908. No timetable has yet been set.

In the next few days, Philippe of Belgium will travel to Lubumbashi, in the south of the country, and also to Bukavu, in the east. While tensions between the Congolese and Rwandans have increased in recent weeks, the Belgian Prime Minister has insisted that DRC is within its rights to demand that its neighbours “respect its territory”.

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