King Philip of Belgium has expressed his “deepest regrets” to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the colonial abuses in his country.
The reigning monarch made the comments in a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Belgium controlled the Central African country from the 19th century until it gained independence in 1960.
Millions of Africans died during Belgium’s bloody colonial rule.
There is a renewed focus on the history of the European nation after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed.
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Thousands of Belgians have demonstrated in recent weeks and the statues of the Belgian colonial leader, King Leopold II, have been smashed. The Antwerp authorities have removed a statue of him from a public square.
More than 10 million Africans are believed to have died during his reign. King Felipe is a descendant of the 19th century ruler.
What did King Philip say?
This is the first time that a Belgian monarch has formally expressed remorse for what happened during the country’s colonial rule. The observations, however, did not come to an absolute apology.
In a letter sent to President Tshisekedi and published in the Belgian media, King Philip praises the “privileged partnership” between the two nations now.
But he says there have been “painful episodes” in his history, including during the reign of King Leopold II, whom he does not name directly, and in the 20th century.
“I would like to express my deepest regret for these injuries of the past, the pain of which is now revived with the discrimination that is still too present in our societies,” wrote King Felipe.
“I will continue to fight against all forms of racism. I encourage the reflection initiated by our parliament so that our memory is permanently pacified.”
Like the United Kingdom, Belgium is a constitutional monarchy, which means that King Philip’s declaration will have been agreed in advance with the government of Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès.
Earlier this month, King Philip’s brother Prince Laurent defended Leopold II.
“Never went to [DR Congo] himself, “said the prince in an interview.” I don’t see how it could have made the people there suffer. “
However, Prince Laurent added that whenever he met African heads of state he always apologized “for the actions that Europeans have done to Africans in general.”
What is the history
In the 19th century, European powers began to seize large tracts of Africa for colonial exploitation.
King Leopold II was given personal control over large areas around the Congo River basin, which would become known as the Congo Free State.
The country lasted from 1885 to 1908. During this period, more than 10 million Africans are believed to have died from disease, colonial abuse and while working on plantations for the king.
The authorities would cut the limbs of the enslaved people when they did not comply with the quotas for materials such as the rubber demanded by the crown.
Conditions became so dire that other countries exposed and condemned the atrocities. King Leopold II renounced direct control in 1908, and Belgium formally annexed the country, renaming it the Belgian Congo.
The colonizers continued to use the Africans as wage labor and tried to make it a “model colony”. Widespread resistance eventually led the nation to gain its independence in 1960.