Belgian king reiterates regrets for colonial past in Congo but does not apologise
Belgium's King Philippe reaffirmed his deepest regrets on Wednesday for the exploitation, racism and acts of violence during his country's colonisation of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but again stopped short of formally apologising.
Philippe became the first Belgian official in 2020 to express regret for colonisation, and some Congolese hoped he would issue a formal apology during his first visit to Congo since taking the throne in 2013.
The king arrived on Tuesday in the capital Kinshasa with his wife, Queen Mathilde, and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo for a week-long visit that will also take him to the eastern cities of Bukavu and Lubumbashi.
In 2020, Philippe became the first Belgian official to express regret for the “suffering and humiliation” inflicted on Congo. But he stopped short of issuing an apology, and some Congolese have demanded he does so this time.
"The colonial regime itself was based on exploitation and domination," he told a joint session of parliament in Kinshasa.
"This regime was one of the unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism," he said."It led to violent acts and humiliation. On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, right here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for those wounds of the past."
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and many politicians have enthusiastically welcomed Philippe's visit. Large numbers of ruling party supporters waved Belgian flags, and a banner hanging from parliament read: "A common history."
Mutungilayi Nawezi, a Congolese student, attended his speech at the People's Palace. He is very touched by what he was able to hear:" Saying a few words in Lingala is something that has touched me a lot. We didn't expect the king to be able to speak in Lingala and also to acknowledge some of the wrongdoings we have had to endure, I really appreciated it. " he explains.
" We hope that the king's presence here will solve many problems, especially peace on the East side. In other countries, we see how they are supported by their colonizers, in many areas, like employment, and stabilization of social life, but us, we do not even know the language of the Belgians (Walloon, Flemish). We hope that the presence of the Belgian king here will bring us a solution for the good development of our country." said Solange Ekudju, a Congolese woman.
But many Congolese were likely to be disappointed by the absence of an apology.
During the visit, He also returned a traditional mask to Congo on Wednesday as a goodwill gesture.
Philippe offered an initiation mask of the Suku people to Congo's national museum as an "indefinite loan". The mask has been held for decades by Belgium's Royal Museum for Central Africa.
"I wanted, during our visit to the national museum and in your presence, to return to you this exceptional work in order to allow Congolese to discover and admire it," Philippe said, standing next to Congo President Felix Tshisekedi. "It marks the symbolic beginning of the reinforcement of the cultural collaboration between Belgium and Congo."
By some estimates, killings, famine and disease killed up to 10 million Congolese during just the first 23 years of Belgium's rule from 1885 to 1960, when King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom.