BRUSSELS | the king of The Belgians has presented on Tuesday, “its deepest regret for the injuries’ inflicted in the colonial period of belgian Congo — now the democratic Republic of Congo, a historic first in the wake of the wave of emotion in the world after the death of George Floyd in the United States.
King Philip, who reigns since 2013, has chosen to send a letter to the president of the DRC Felix Tshisekedi on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Congo on 30 June 1960.
In the letter released to the press, he mentions — without naming his ancestor — the time of Leopold II, who was considered the more brutal by the historians, when the late king was handling the Congo and its riches as his private domain from Brussels.
“At the time of the Congo free State (1885 to 1908 when the former king ceded the territory to Belgium) acts of violence and cruelty have been committed, which still weigh on our collective memory,” writes Philip.
“The colonial period that followed (until 1960) has also caused suffering and humiliation. I would like to express my deepest regret for the injuries of the past whose pain is today revived by the discrimination that is still too present in our societies,” he continued.
The daily le Soir has welcomed the royal initiative in an editorial: “Finally, this gesture, if necessary, grows the King and his country”.
King Philip ensures that it will continue to “combat all forms of racism”, while the mobilization in the name of the movement “Black Lives Matter” has led to protests in the world.
“I encourage the thinking that is undertaken by our parliament so that our memory will be permanently pacified”, he adds, in reference to a parliamentary committee mandated to examine the memory of the colonial with experts from belgian and african, which should see the light of day following an agreement between the political groups.
In 2000-2001, a parliamentary commission of inquiry was focused on the context of the assassination in January 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, the short-lived Prime minister of the Congo. It had found a “moral responsibility” of “some ministers and other actors of the belgian.
Hands cut off
The death of the Afro-american George Floyd, was asphyxiated at the end of may by a white policeman in Minneapolis in the United States, has been revived in Belgium, the debate on the violence of the colonial period in the Congo and on the personality very controversial Leopold II, who reigned from 1865 to 1909.
Many statues representing the former sovereign with the long beard have been vandalized, Brussels, and Antwerp in particular, the most often covered in red paint symbolizing the blood shed by the Congolese.
Some universities and municipalities have also decided to remove the statues or busts, as it must still be the case on Tuesday in a public park in Ghent.
In a petition, which has gathered more than 80,000 signatures, the collective of militant anti-colonial “Repair History” has claimed that “all the statues” in honor of Leopold II, are removed to Brussels, including the equestrian statue is the most famous which was erected opposite the royal palace.
The text of this petition, one of the triggers for mobilization are now relayed by elected belgian, accused Leopold II of having been a “workaholic” and have “killed over 10 million Congolese”.
Via corporate dealers, Leopold II used forced labour to extract, in particular the rubber in the Congo. Abuses — up to hands cut for workers insufficiently productive — have been documented.
According to most historians, the violence has not ceased after 1908, and a scheme of strict separation of Blacks and Whites, comparable to the apartheid of South Africa, has been maintained for decades.
“We have highlighted the famous +benefits of civilization+ made by the Belgians, but between the roads, the hospitals, the schools, we know that everything that was built was mainly aimed at serving the extraction system and the production of wealth for the settlers,” said the AFP Roman Landmeters, a researcher at the université Saint-Louis in Brussels.