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The Belgian king reiterates his regrets for the colonial past in Congo but no excuses

  • King on his first visit since assuming the throne
  • Once again stops short of apologizing for colonial atrocities
  • Congolese president says we must look to the future

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

Philippe became the first Belgian official two years ago to express regret over colonization, and some Congolese hoped he would issue a formal apology on his first visit to Congo since assuming the throne in 2013.

“Even though many Belgians invested themselves sincerely, loving 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 a regime of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he said.

“This has led to acts of violence and humiliation. On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past.”

Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and many politicians enthusiastically welcomed Philippe’s visit. A large number of ruling party supporters waved Belgian flags and a banner hung in parliament read: “A common history”.

But others were disappointed by the lack of an apology.

By some estimates, murder, starvation and disease caused the deaths of up to 10 million Congolese in the first 23 years alone of Belgium’s rule from 1885 to 1960, when King Leopold II ruled the country. Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom.

Villages that missed rubber collection quotas were notoriously obligated to provide the severed hands instead.

“I salute the speech of the King of the Belgians. However, in the face of the crimes committed by Belgium, regrets are not enough,” Congolese opposition senator Francine Muyumba Nkanga wrote on Twitter.

“We expect an apology from him and a promise of reparations. This is the price of finally turning the page,” she said.

Nadia Nsayi, a political scientist specializing in the Congo, said he felt “a lot of nervousness in Belgium about a formal apology because the Congo could use it to demand financial reparations”. Read more


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

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

Relations had deteriorated under Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Joseph Kabila, whom Brussels criticized for suppressing dissent and extending his term in power beyond legal limits.

“We did not dwell 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 colonization, we are ready to forgive,” said Antoine Mubidiki.

Previously, Philippe had offered a traditional mask of the Suku people to the National Museum of Congo on “indefinite loan”. The mask has been held for decades by the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium.

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

By contrast, last year Germany apologized to Namibia for its role in the massacre of the Herero and Nama tribes more than a century ago, officially called it a genocide for the first time and agreed to finance projects worth more than one billion euros. Read more

There has been the beginning of a historic balance sheet in Belgium in recent years. During anti-racism protests sparked in 2020 by the US police killing of George Floyd, protesters targeted statues of King Leopold II.

The Belgian parliament set up a commission soon after to examine the historical archives. It will publish its final report this year.

Belgium will also hand over a tooth, believed to be the only remains of Congo’s first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, to his family this month.

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

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Reporting by Benoit Nyemba and Nellie Peyton; Written by Aaron Ross; Editing by Alison Williams

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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