Belgium's King Philippe recently expressed his deepest regrets for the abuses committed by his country in its former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The King arrived in Kinshasa this week on his first official visit to the country and gave a speech in which he stated that Belgian colonial authority was racist.
The King informed a joint session of parliament in Kinshasa that "I'd want to reaffirm my sincere regret for the past atrocities in front of the Congolese people and those who continue to suffer today."
He added that "even though many Belgians committed themselves truly to loving Congo and its people passionately, the colonial government itself was built on exploitation." The regime was marked by paternalism, discrimination, racism, and acts of violence.
In recent years, Belgium has had to face the consequences of its colonial past. The King's remarks came two years after he made similar remarks on the 60th anniversary of Congo's independence, when Belgium demolished a statue of King Leopold II, who plundered Congo’s resources from 1865 to 1909, enslaving thousands of its people for his own profit.
Killings, forced labor, and other sorts of brutality were common in the early years of King Leopold II. It is estimated that 10 million Congolese were killed during the first 23 years of his reign, from 1885 to 1960, when he ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom. Villages that failed to meet their rubber collection expectations were notoriously forced to offer their severed their hands.
After Leopold's claim to Congo expired, he turned it over to the Belgian state, which ruled the territory until 1960, when the African nation gained independence.
King Philippe arrived on Tuesday for a week-long visit with his wife, Queen Mathilde, and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. His visit has been warmly welcomed by DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and numerous politicians.
Large numbers of supporters of the DRC ruling party waved Belgian flags as the monarch spoke to legislators, while a banner hanging from parliament read: "A common history." Some Kinshasa citizens expressed anticipation that the visit might result in investment. Some have expressed their willingness to forgive the Belgians for what they did to them during colonization.
While some Congolese praised the Belgian king's comments as courageous, others were upset that no apology was offered. Regrets have been deemed insufficient in the face of Belgium's awful atrocities. Congolese from opposition political parties have declared that they expect the king to apologize and offer reparations. They say that Belgium owes the Congolese compensation for several minerals and cultural artifacts plundered during the colonial period.
Others have characterized the King's visit as a distraction that does nothing to promote the DRC or improve the Congolese people's economic situation. President Tshisekedi, on the other hand, said during a brief press conference with Prime Minister De Croo that he was focused on enhancing collaboration with Belgium in order to attract investment and enhance Congo's healthcare.