The King of the Belgians, Philippe, has made his first official visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), against a backdrop of remembrance and reconciliation between Belgium and its former colony. At the invitation of President Félix Tshisekedi, the Belgian monarch went to Kinshasa yesterday, Tuesday 7 June, for a 6-day visit.
The sovereign accompanied by his wife Mathilde and the government delegation in their wake, arrived at N’Djili international airport on Tuesday afternoon shortly after 3pm. They were welcomed by DRC President Félix Tshisekedi, his wife and various state and political institutions mobilised for the occasion.
A visit of symbolic importance
This visit is the first since that of hir father Albert II in 2010, and has strong symbolic significance. Indeed, it all started with a letter from King Philip to Congolese President Felix Tchisekedi in June 2020. In this letter, the Belgian monarch expressed his regrets about the “acts of violence and cruelty” committed during the colonial rule in Congo.
King Philip lamented the suffering and humiliation inflicted on the Congo during the colonial period. These include the killing and maiming of Congolese workers on rubber plantations. Historians say that millions of people were killed, maimed or died of disease because they were forced to harvest rubber during the reign of King Leopold II, the ancestor of King Philip.
In response to the Belgian monarch’s correspondence, the Congolese president had welcomed the king’s words as a “step forward” capable of “boosting friendly relations” between the two countries.
Towards the restitution of works of art to the DRC?
Moreover, since the arrival of President Tshisekedi in power, there has been a warming of relations between the two countries. As the fourth largest donor to the DR Congo after the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, Belgium aims to give new impetus to the partnership with Kinshasa. We can therefore note Belgium’s stated intention to return artistic or symbolic works to the DRC. As a reminder, on 17 February, the country handed over to the DRC the inventory of all art objects from the DRC. A total of 84,000 Congolese objects are on the list. This represents more than two thirds of the collections held by the museum in Tervueren, Belgium.
At the forefront of this restitution is the tooth of Patrice Lumumba, fetishes, agricultural objects, musical instruments or pirogues… Soon, these objects of colonial origin will no longer be part of the inalienable heritage of the Belgian kingdom.
The activities during the king’s stay are divided into three stages: Kinshasa, with a visit on Wednesday to the national museum and a speech on the esplanade of the National Assembly; Lubumbashi, in the south-east of the country, with an intervention on Friday in front of university students; and Bukavu, in the east of the country, a region that has been plagued by violence from armed groups for nearly three decades.