As tensions grow in the dangerous east, Belgium’s King Philippe undertakes a historic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area unjustly abused by his forebears.
The six-day trip, which Philippe will undertake, is at the invitation of President Felix Tshisekedi and has noted to be a significant since it comes two years after Philippe voiced his “deepest condolences” for the “wounds” of colonization to the Congolese leader.
The monarch’s first trip to the DR Congo since rising to the throne in 2013 has been promoted as an opportunity for reconciliation following atrocities and other injustices committed under Belgian colonial authority.
It was originally slated for June 2020 to commemorate the DRC’s 60th anniversary of independence, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was pushed back to 2022. However, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the visit was therefore postponed from March to June.
Philippe will be joined by his wife, Queen Mathilde, and Belgian government officials, including Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The sovereign king of Belgium will give a speech at his first two stops: in Kinshasa on Wednesday during a ceremony with Tshisekedi at the Congolese parliament, and then in Lubumbashi, in the south of the country, on Friday before students at the University of Lubumbashi.
Recall that Millions of people were killed, mutilated, or died of disease while working on Leopold II’s rubber plantations in the Belgian Congo, according to historians. Interestingly, Leopold II happens to be Philippe’s great-great-grandfather who reigned from 1865 to 1909.
Several colonial-era statues in Belgium have been demolished as a result of the emergence of Black Lives Matter, which began as a reaction to police violence in the United States but has since evolved into a global anti-racist movement.
In response to this movement among other things, Belgium is prepared to restore to Kinshasa a tooth belonging to Patrice Lumumba, a hero of the anti-colonial struggle and the Congo’s short-lived first prime minister.
Lumumba was slain by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961, and his body was destroyed in acid, but one of his killers, a Belgian police officer, saved the tooth as a memento.
Philippe’s visit comes 12 years after the last visit of a Belgian sovereign, Albert II in 2010, and will seek to repair ties that were strained during Joseph Kabila’s administration, which ended in 2018.
The latter was chastised, even by Brussels, for staying in office past his second term, in contravention of his country’s constitution, and development cooperation was temporarily terminated.
The visit takes place against the backdrop of increasing conflict in North Kivu, where the DRC accuses Rwanda of aiding armed rebels hostile to Congolese authorities.
For nearly 30 years, the Congo’s east has been shattered by atrocities and bloodshed.
Following the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994, several of the murderers fled to the DRC, where they were pursued by Kigali’s new authorities.
The royal couple will visit to offer their support for the region’s abused people, particularly those who have been raped.
The group’s final destination will be in Bukavu on June 12 at the clinic of gynecologist Denis Mukwege, a co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end sexual assault.
A stop at Kinshasa’s National Museum on Wednesday will also address the problem of art object return to the former colony.
Also worth noting is that last year, the Belgian government initiated a campaign to return antiquities to the DRC, further necessitating the need for the visit even more.