The colonial era was a dark time for Africa, as dehumanization, brutality and the worst forms of humiliation were the mark of black Africans. Heinous and atrocious acts were done to grease over the selfish and evil deeds of the colonizers, while the black Africans resigned despairingly to their miserable fate. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a point of reference and stirs ugly colonial memories.
Former European colonizers have not had the will to atone for their horrific acts, and they have sought to rewrite history in apparent attempts to wipe off their misdeeds all in pursuit of riches and glory. Belgium is a former colonizer of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and with the renaming of a square in Brussels after the iconic revolutionary Patrice Lumumba, a debate on the ramifications of colonization has raged once again.
A square in Brussels, the Square du Bastion, was renamed to Patrice Lumumba Square, in honour of the first leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is located near the neighbourhood of Matonge, which is home to many Congolese people. No discussion about the reparations or repatriation of wealth stolen was proffered, and a lot of questions about the sincerity of the symbolic act have surfaced, and answers really needed.
The mayor of Brussels views this not as an attempt to conceal the brutality of the Belgians, but as a way to forge a new and meaningful relationship with the Congo. "By inaugurating this square, we're not repairing the past, we're not closing a chapter of history," he said. "Today, by inaugurating this square, we forget nothing."
"Today, in the heart of the Belgian capital, capital of 500 million Europeans, by inaugurating this Square Patrice Lumumba, we begin to write our common history," he added.
Belgium's evil acts in their conquest of the Congo cannot just be easily thrown down the drain, as if nothing once happened, if substantial moves to address this are not taken. Belgium hardly expresses remorse for what they did in the Congo. In 2002, Belgium made an apology for the gruesome assassination of Patrice Lumumba, admitting that they were part of the plot involving America's CIA, in order to be on top in the Cold War hostilities and in the pursuit of Congo's vast riches.
Lumumba's assassination has been described as the "most important assassination of the 20th century". He was a charismatic, determined, fierce and committed leader who was ready to take on the challenges of the newly independent DRC before the West decided to conspire against him and grisly killed him. His death on 17 January 1961 showed the brutal and remorseless side of the West.
Belgium's rule in the Congo is beyond destructive. The current states of Belgium and DRC are completely worlds apart. The DRC was the centre of Belgium's colonial empire. King Leopold II declared the Congo and all its people his personal assets. The rapes, murders, kidnappings all committed in acquiring the colony for Leopold are unspeakable. DRC's capital, Kinshasa, was named Leopoldville, even though Leopold II never set foot there. Historians strongly believe his evil and heavy-handed rule in the Congo was responsible for the deaths of about 10 million people. Utterly horrific.
What's making matters worse is that while Belgium is putting a facade of honouring Lumumba, Leopold is still very much immortalized in Belgium, despite all the harm he caused to the Congo. Statues, public buildings and boulevards reminiscent of King Leopold II are still littering Brussels and the rest of Belgium. Will apologies and renaming of squares atone for the colonial sins that are still being celebrated right up to now? Are the apologies and symbolic acts even sincere at all?
Former colonial powers do not have to seek to rewrite history and make valiant efforts at forgetting the past. The legacies of colonialism with its parent imperialism are still bedeviling the economy. Substantive moves must be made - the sorts of repatriation, reparations - otherwise all other moves are not sincere at all.