Democratic Republic of Congo marks this year’s independence anniversary from Belgium with a formal apology from the Belgian king for the over 75 years brutal rule.
Every June 30th is always a special day for the Congo but this year is considered special as the Belgian king expressed his ‘regrets’ over his nation’s colonial past.
King Philippe of Belgium on Tuesday expressed his “deepest regrets” for his country’s brutal past in a letter to the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first public acknowledgment from a member of the Belgian royal family of the devastating human and financial toll during eight decades of colonization.
The king’s letter, issued on the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence, acknowledged the historical legacy and pointed out continuing issues of racism and discrimination, though it stopped short of the apology that some, including the United Nations, had asked for.
“I want to express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of which is revived today by discriminations that are still too present in our societies,” the king wrote in the letter sent to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The king would, he added, “continue to fight against all forms of racism.”
Last week, a statue of former Belgian King Leopold II was taken off public display in the city of Ghent as Belgium marked the 60th anniversary of the end of its colonial rule in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The statue has long been criticized by activists because of the former king’s brutal rule in Belgium’s former African colonies. The figure in the port city will not be returning to its pedestal and instead “become part of the museum collection,” Johan Vermant, a spokesman for Antwerp’s mayor Bart de Wever, said.
Belgium ruled over the colony for 75 years, but never allowed a Congolese elite to rise to power, so when its Belgian overlords left on June 30,1960 few there knew how to manage the nation’s administrations. Those fragile foundations hampered the creation of a strong democratic state, many there believe. Today, despite huge troves of natural resources, more than 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.