Belgian King Phillippe said Belgium’s rule over Congo led to “abuse and humiliation” and once again offered “deepest regrets for those wounds of the past” on Wednesday, the second day of his six-day visit to the DR Congo.

“This regime was one of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he  said in a speech addressed to Congolese lawmakers.

Earlier on Wednesday, Phillippe met the last surviving World War II veteran in the Democratic Republic of Congo and laid a wreath at a memorial site for combat veterans in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday, the second day of his six-day visit to the African country.

Phillippe shook hands with now 100-year-old Corporal Albert Kunyuku, who joined Belgium’s Force Publique in 1940 and was deployed in present-day Myanmar.

The monarch also gave back a traditional initiation mask of the ethnic Suku people to the National Museum in Kinshasa, describing the gesture as an “indefinite loan” from Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa.

“I am here 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. 

King’s ‘deepest regrets’ not enough for everyone

The six-day visit, which started on Tuesday, is seen as an attempt to move past Belgium’s colonial rule in Congo, which cost the African country millions of lives.

But some Congolese have questioned Phillippe’s stance and the welcome provided by their government.

“They left us isolated, abandoned. They pillaged all our resources, and today you invite the Belgian king again?” Junior Bombi, a salesman in Kinshasa’s central market, told Reuters news agency.

Others, like Professor Antoine Roger Lokongo, said the Belgian king should offer a formal apology beyond offering his “deepest regrets” over violence and humiliation suffered by the Congolese people.

History of blood

King Leopold II — the brother of Philippe’s great-great-grandfather — brutally ruled what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo as his personal property between 1885 and 1908. During this time, his colonial military unit forced the local population to collect rubber.

Historians estimate that millions of people were killed, mutilated, or died from disease in Congo during the rule of Leopold II and the subsequent Belgian colonization.

In 1908, his so-called Congo Free State became a colony known as the Belgian Congo. It remained part of the Belgian empire until gaining independence on June 30, 1960.

This week’s visit is Philippe’s first to Congo since he became king in 2013.

He had planned to visit to mark the country’s 60th anniversary of independence in 2020, but the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

dj/rs (Reuters, AFP)

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