Belgium's King Philippe Expresses ‘Deepest Regrets’ For Colonization Of Congo

Opposition leaders seek a more formal apology and reparations.

On Wednesday (June 8), Belgium’s King Philippe reiterated deep regrets for the colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which resulted in the exploitation, racism and acts of violence against its people.

According to Reuters, this is the second time Philippe expressed regret for colonization, however he came short of apologizing for the exploitation. The comments were made during the king’s first visit to the Congo since taking the throne in 2013.

"Even though many Belgians invested themselves sincerely, loving Congo and its people deeply, the colonial regime itself was based on exploitation and domination," he told a joint session of parliament in Kinshasa, the capital. "This regime was one of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism.”

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Philippe added: "It led to violent acts and humiliations. On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, right here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for those wounds of the past."

Reuters reports Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and many politicians enthusiastically welcomed Philippe’s visit while large numbers of ruling party supporters waved Belgian flags, and a banner hanging from parliament reading “A common history.”

Others, though, were disappointed by the absence of an apology.

During Belgium’s rule from 1885 to 1960, and the first 23 years when King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom, it’s estimated that killings, famine and disease caused up to 10 million Congolese.

"I salute the speech by the Belgian king. However, in the face of the crimes committed by Belgium, regrets are not enough," Congolese opposition Senator Francine Muyumba Nkanga wrote on Twitter. "We expect an apology and a promise of reparations from him. That is the price to definitively turn the page.”

Antoine Mubidiki, a Kinshasa resident, told Reuters that the king’s trip would also bring investments in the African nation. "Despite what the Belgians did to us during colonization, we are ready to forgive," he added.

Traditionally, Belgium has traditionally said little about colonialism with the subject not being extensively taught in Belgian schools.

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