Belgian king expresses ‘deepest regrets’ to Congolese over past wounds

KIGALI, Rwanda

Belgium’s King Philippe reaffirmed his “deepest regrets” to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the “wounds of the past” caused by his country in an address to government officials and parliamentarians Wednesday in the capital Kinshasa, seeking to write a new chapter in relations with the former colony.

The Central African nation acquired independence from Belgium in 1960.

King Leopold II, brother to Philippe’s great-great grandfather, oversaw the country’s occupation between 1885 and 1908 before it was declared a Belgian colony.

“Although many Belgians sincerely loved the Congo and its inhabitants, the colonial regime, as such, was based on exploitation and domination. This regime was one of an unequal relationship, in itself unjustifiable, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” King Philippe said.

“It gave rise to abuses and humiliations. On the occasion of my first trip to the Congo, here in the face of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regret for these wounds of the past.”

Its colonization as the Belgian Congo has been described by historians as one of the harshest European rules in Africa in the late 19th and 20th centuries, for which Philippe in 2020 wrote a letter to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi expressing his “deepest regrets” for the “wounds of the past.”

He admitted that over the decades, cooperation between the two countries has had its ups and downs, but the foundations for a new bilateral partnership have been laid.

“Congo thus remains our most important partner in Africa,” the king said.

On security, Philippe said the instability in the east of the country remains a great source of concern for all.

“This situation cannot continue. It is the responsibility of all of us to remedy this,” he said, promising his country’s support in international forums.

President Tshisekedi, speaking at a joint press briefing along with the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, said security support is one priority that his country expects from Belgium.

He underlined that his country’s ambition is to have the defense and security forces able to ensure the defense of the national territory as well as the security of citizens.

Earlier in the day, King Philippe decorated the last surviving Congolese World War II veteran, according to an official from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde arrived in Kinshasa for a six-day historic visit Tuesday.

At a ceremony, Philippe decorated retired Corporal Albert Kunyuku with the Order of the Crown, one of the highest honors in the Kingdom of Belgium, Communication and Media Minister Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter.

Kunyuku, now a full century old, was reportedly conscripted at the age of 18 in Belgium’s colonial Force Publique in 1940.

He served in Burma, now Myanmar, alongside American, British and Russian allies against the Axis powers.

Philippe and Mathilde also participated in another ceremony in Kinshasa to honor veterans of the Congolese independence war and laid a wreath at a memorial for combat veterans.

The livestreamed ceremony was attended by Tshisekedi and several other officials, local media reported.

The king and queen’s trip will include visits to the cities of southeastern Lubumbashi and eastern Bukavu, the capital of the province of South Kivu.

In Kinshasa, the couple on Wednesday visited the National Museum, with the king scheduled to address the country’s National Assembly.

The DRC and Belgium signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday to support Congolese young people in the reconstitution, promotion and conservation of Congolese cultural heritage, said Muyaya.

At the ceremony, Philippe gave Tshisekedi a 70-year-old suku mask as a symbolic gift, Muyaya said, adding the return of Congolese works of art and culture were central to the visit.

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