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Visit of the King of the Belgians to the Democratic Republic of Congo: memory and work of reconciliation

Visit of the King of the Belgians to the Democratic Republic of Congo: memory and work of reconciliation

The visit of the King of the Belgians to Kinshasa promises to be dense in evocation of the colonial past and the delicate work of reconciliation between Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo. King Philippe, accompanied by his wife Queen Mathilde and members of the Belgian government, including its leader Alexander De Croo, arrived Tuesday, June 7 in Kinshasa, for an official visit scheduled for six days, at the invitation of the President of the DRC Felix Tshisekedi. This visit, twice postponed because of Covid-19 and then the outbreak of war in Ukraine, is the first since that of his father Albert II in 2010 and has a strong symbolic significance.

“Wounds” of colonization

Two years ago, on June 30, 2020, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the independence of the former Belgian Congo, King Philippe expressed in a letter to Félix Tshisekedi his “deepest regrets” for the “wounds” of colonization, a historic first. He then regretted the “acts of violence and cruelty” committed at the time when his ancestor Leopold II had made the Congo his personal property (1885-1908), before the half-century of presence of the Belgian State in the immense country of Central Africa. Some Congolese, like the government spokesperson, want to see in it the start of a “new partnership”, “uninhibited”, “equals”when others are still demanding apologies and reparations for the sufferings endured and the “looting” wealth of the DRC.

Return of works of art

The colonial past, with among other things the question of the return of works of art to the former colony, should once again be mentioned during this trip by the king who, according to the Belgian royal palace, also wants to give a “new start” to the partnership with Kinshasa. Belgium is the fourth donor to the DRC, after the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. On the side of Belgium, reflection on the colonial past accelerated in 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement linked to the murder in the United States of African-American George Floyd. After angry demonstrations by African descendants and the unbolting of statues of Leopold II by several municipalities, Parliament set up a special commission responsible for “make it clear” about this past.

Tensions between the DRC and Rwanda

The relationship between Brussels and Kinshasa was difficult during the end of the presidency of Joseph Kabila (2001-2018), criticized for having remained in power beyond his second term, and has warmed up since the accession to the presidency of Felix Tshisekedi. This trip by King Philippe comes in the midst of renewed tension between the DRC and its neighbor Rwanda, accused by Kinshasa of supporting an old rebellion that reappeared at the end of 2021 and that violent fighting opposed the Congolese army in the neighboring province of North Kivu. Kigali denies but Félix Tshisekedi assured, Sunday June 5, not to have “no doubt” on this support.

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