The King of Belgium regrets colonial abuses in DR Congo but does not apologize

This Wednesday, June 8, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (RD of Congo), King Philippe of Belgium once again expressed his “deepest regret for the injuries” and abuses committed by his country during colonial rule in the Congo, but did not apologize or talk about reparations.

A second day of travel under the sign of memory and reconciliation. King Philippe of Belgium reiterated, on Wednesday, June 8, his “deepest sorrow for the wounds” inflicted during Belgian colonial rule.

The colonial regime, “based on exploitation and domination”, was “that of an unequal relationship, in itself unjustifiable, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism. It has given rise to exactions and humiliations”, declared the monarch in a speech delivered in Kinshasa, before the People’s Palace, seat of the Parliament of the DR Congo.

“On the occasion of my first trip to the Congo (…), I wish to reaffirm my deepest regret for these past wounds,” he added.

Regrets that he already formulated, in writing, in a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi two years ago, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of independence. It was then a first story.

Some Congolese want to see in this examination of the colonial past the beginning of a “new partnership”, while others continue to demand apologies and reparations for the suffering caused and the “looting” of the riches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The King of the Belgians and his wife, Queen Matilde, make a visit of great symbolic scope from here. The second day of his trip began at the War Veterans Memorial, where the sovereign awarded a decoration to the last living Congolese ex-combatant of the “Belgian Public Force” who participated in World War II.

Corporal Albert Kunyuku, who just turned 100, was drafted in 1940 and was part of the military medical support contingent sent to Myamar in 1945. Sitting on a chair, the old man shook hands and exchanged a few words with the king.

“The promises”

“The king has just made promises to me. It’s very good. They have to be fulfilled,” Corporal Kunyuku told reporters. “Decorating is good. But you also have to compensate the families of these veterans who lost their lives in a war that did not concern them,” said Madeleine Yowa, a 43-year-old nurse, on the street.

Subsequently, the king visited the National Museum of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MNRDC), where the issue of the restitution of art objects to the former colony was addressed, for which the Belgian Government defined a roadmap in 2021.

The King gave the Museum a giant “kakuungu” mask, which was used for initiation rites of the Suku ethnic group. The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, near Brussels, lends this object to the MNRDC for an “unlimited” duration.

It is one of the more than 80,000 objects looted during colonial rule and that Belgium has returned as a symbol of collaboration to rebuild Congolese cultural heritage.

“Our works have been taken over by the colonizer, it is legitimate for them to be returned to us,” Louis Karhebwa, a 63-year-old businessman, told AFP, “happy” with the king’s arrival in DR Congo.

History also had an appointment at a ceremony at the “Palace of the Nation” – the official residence of the Congolese head of state – where independence had been proclaimed on June 30, 1960.

It was there that Patrice Lumumba, independence hero – who was to become Prime Minister – had marked his violent rhetoric against Belgian colonization, in the presence of King Baudouin, uncle of the current King of the Belgians, who, for his part, he had praised the civilizing work of his country.

The royal couple still has to spend Thursday in Kinshasa, before going to Lubumbashi (southeast), the country’s second largest city, and then to Bukavu, in the east, where they will visit the clinic of gynecologist Denis Mukwege on Sunday. , Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018 for her work on behalf of women victims of rape.

The eastern region of the country has been the victim of violence by armed groups for almost 30 years, and this visit comes amid a resurgence of tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbor Rwanda, accused by Kinshasa of supporting the rebels.

The king mentioned in his speech “the territorial integrity of the Congo” and the instability in the east, “where too often inhuman violence and impunity reign.” “This situation cannot continue,” he said.

Among the areas of cooperation that he would like to see strengthened, the Congolese president mentioned, for his part, before the press, “military cooperation”. Training resumed but, he said, “it is up to Belgium to see what it can add more to.”

Felipe, who will remain on Congolese soil until June 13, advocated walking that path “without forgetting the past, but fully assuming it, to transmit to new generations a thoughtful and serene memory of our common history,” he concluded.

Adapted from the French original of France 24 with AFP and EFE.

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The King of Belgium regrets colonial abuses in DR Congo but does not apologize