Monday, July 4

The King of Belgium calls the colonial past “exploitative” and “racist” during a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

“It was a regime of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism.” This is how Felipe, king of the Belgians, described the colonial regime of his ancestors in the Congo –1885-1969– during his first visit to Kinshasa and before the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, in a speech public this Wednesday afternoon.

The ‘black lives matter’ resurrects the ghosts of King Leopold II for the genocide in the Belgian Congo

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Why was Belgium’s colonial rule so brutal? As the BBC recalls, the entire country was initially declared the personal property of King Leopold II. It is believed that more than 10 million Africans died during his reign from disease, abuse and while working on plantations for him: the authorities cut off the limbs of enslaved people when they did not meet quotas for materials such as rubber required by the crown. .

The 62-year-old Belgian king has said, without apologizing: “The colonial regime was based on exploitation and domination. This regime was that of an unequal relationship. In itself unjustifiable. Marked by paternalism. discrimination and racism. It led to humiliation and abuse. During my first trip to the Congo, here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer from it today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest sorrow for these wounds of the past”.

A recognition of abuses that it is difficult for other monarchies to do, such as the Spanish with Latin America, for example. Only in 1990, King Juan Carlos, in Mexico, “regretted the abuses that were committed during the Conquest, despite the fact that the Crown of Spain always tried to defend the dignity of the indigenous”, As reported by ABC: “The prudence and equanimity of the monarchs was often regrettably disregarded by ambitious encomenderos and venal officials who, by force, imposed their unreason.”

“A sincere regret that I had expressed in the letter that I addressed to you, Mr. President, two years ago, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of independence. Mr. president. You and I are too young to have experienced the Congo before its independence. But for you as for me, the Belgian presence in the Congo before 1960 also leaves a legacy that anchored the country to its current borders. The preservation of the territorial integrity of the Congo is one of the main concerns that we share […]. Beyond State-to-State relations, our two peoples have been able to weave, thanks to a very special affinity, rich and varied interpersonal ties that help us build the future together”.

“Today we want to write a new chapter in our relations and look to the future, encouraged by the formidable youth of the Congolese people who only ask to develop their talents. Let’s write this new chapter together,” said the monarch, who arrived in the African country on Tuesday with Queen Matilde.

Decolonization in Belgium

On May 22nd, one of the main tunnels in Brussels changed its name from the Leopold II tunnel to officially become the Annie Cordy tunnel. A name change decided more than a year ago after a popular consultation and that materialized with a festive inauguration.

Thus, the name of the tunnel was decolonized and feminized, but its nature did not change: it remains the longest tunnel in Brussels and in Belgium, with 2,530 kilometers running from Place de l’Yser to the Koekelberg Basilica.

The name change of the tunnel a few weeks ago is part of a movement in recent years that calls for an end to the recognition of the person most responsible for the genocide committed by Belgium.

History is sometimes forgotten. It is often distorted. But it never goes away. This is what is happening to Leopold II (1835-1909), King of the Belgians in the country’s greatest colonial adventure, but also the greatest genocide in the depredation of the Belgian Congo.

The movement black lives matter has become visible in Brussels, a city with racialized communities and a colonial history in Africa, reviving the ghosts of the past, to the point of appearing painted on the numerous statues of King Leopold – also in other Belgian cities – and that are collecting signatures to remove them from public roads.

The monarch is responsible for between 10 and 15 million deaths in the Belgian Congo, according to calculations by historian Adam Hochschild, author of The ghost of King Leopold, book that reviews the exploitation of the Congo Free State by Leopold II of Belgium and brings to light the crimes committed by the white rulers of Africa.

Two years before the independence of the Belgian Congo, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1958 that inaugurated the Atomium, Belgium set up a human zoo in Brussels with people brought from the Congo.

Leopold II began his expedition to the Congo in 1879, and in 1885 the Congo Free State was recognized as territory belonging to the monarch during the Berlin Conference, which partitioned Africa among the European colonial powers. Belgium extracted materials such as rubber from the Congo, enslaving the local population in an environment of extreme violence, where punishments included amputations of body parts.

Part of the wealth resulting from the exploitation and trade of Congolese materials, Leopold dedicated to financing public works in Belgium, such as the enormous Palace of Justice in Brussels, even larger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, one of the largest public buildings in the world, and in front of which thousands of people gathered this Sunday.

In the Belgian city of Antwerp, a statue of Leopold II was removed two years ago with a crane.

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