Will the Belgian government apologize for colonial violence in Congo and Rwanda?

Parliamentary Commission “Congo-Colonial Past” It started in the summer of 2020. The creation of this parliamentary committee is part of the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The creation of this commission was also part of the regrets expressed by King Philip on 30 June 2021 for Belgian colonialism in the Congo. Later, King Philippe of Belgium visited the DRC on June 7, 2021. On the second day of his visit on June 8, King Philippe of Belgium will make a speech “I regret the wounds of the past.”

The damage caused cannot be quantified, which does not change the fact that it must be repaired with financial compensation.Art historian Anne Wetsi Mpoma when presenting the report to the Parliamentary Commission.

The Parliamentary Commission then commissioned ten experts to report to parliamentarians on the issue of colonial memory.

The 689-page report was submitted to parliamentarians of the “Congo-colonial past” commission in October 2021.

On reparations, one of the task force’s experts, art historian Anne Wetsi Mpoma, campaigned for the criminalization of Congo’s colonization. However, the figures do not comment on the extent of the damage. “The damage caused cannot be quantified, which does not change the fact that it must be repaired with financial compensation.

The Chamber apologizes to the peoples of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi for colonial rule and exploitation, violence and atrocities, and individual and collective violations of human rights during this period.
Recommendation of Wouter De Vriendt, Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission.

Wouter De Vriendt, chairman of the parliamentary commission that has been investigating Belgium’s colonial past for two and a half years, offered a presentation by the State of Belgium this Tuesday, November 22, when he read the 689-page recommendations. colonial nations “his excuses”.

According to Wouter De Vriendt, the parliament should condemn “the colonial regime as a system based on exploitation and domination based on unjust relations of inequality characterized by paternalism, discrimination and racism and causing humiliation”One of the recommendations made by Wouter De Vriendt, chairman of the commission, says.

Victims who had their hands cut off by the colonial agents of Leopold II in 1905.  This image will be published in Mark Twain's book about the demands of the Belgian king in the Congo:

“The Chamber apologizes to the peoples of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi for the colonial rule and exploitation, violence and atrocities, individual and collective violations of human rights, as well as the racism and discrimination that oppressed them during this period.”another recommendation asking “Let the executive power take similar steps in terms of symbolic compensation.”

Belgium has always had a movement critical of colonialism, especially under Leopold II. This is not new. But it is true that this report and this parliamentary work is unprecedented in its scale.
François Ryckmans, Belgian journalist specializing in memorial issues.

Is this parliamentary approach and this report on the colonial question unprecedented in Belgium? Francois Ryckmans, RTBF journalist, author Black memories: Congolese call Belgian Congo 1940-1960 He worked on the issue of colonial memory in Belgium.

“There has always been a movement criticizing colonialism in Belgium. It has always existed in Belgium, especially under Leopold II. This is not new.”François Ryckmans emphasizes. “But it’s true, this report and this parliamentary work is unprecedented in its scope in terms of its ambitions.”François Ryckmans emphasizes.

“The work of the experts in the report was ambitious, in my opinion, too much. Can we equate the colonialism of the 1880s-1900s with the 1960s? The Baudoin Congo was not the work of Leopold II. Are we conflating the issue of structural racism in modern Belgium with the issue of colonial recovery? For example , Blacks and Africans are victims of racism in Russia, but Russia did not have a colonial empire in Africa “, the journalist explains.

See: Belgium’s colonial past: what compensation?

Baudouin was King of the Belgians from 1951 to 1993. He became king in 1960 when the Congo declared its independence. Leopold II was the king of Belgium from 1865 to 1909. The King of Belgium directly controls colonialism in the Congo under the name of Congo. Free State. He owns the Congo. Demands, abuses and conspiracies against the population are increasing. Congolese who refuse to submit have their hands cut off. In Belgium, critics of the violence in the Congo are growing. In 1904-1905, a parliamentary commission was established and the monarchy was deprived of control over this colony. According to historians, the number of victims of Leopold II’s policies varies between 5 and 8 million.

According to the historian Romain Landmeters, a researcher at the Saint-Louis Institute, the violence of Belgian colonialism returns constantly in this period. “Colonial violence continued between 1885 when the Congo was under King Leopold II or the colonial state of Belgium from 1908 to 1960. Resistance to Belgian colonialism was suppressed with blood. Anti-colonial riots in 1959 were also bloodily suppressed. The history of the report is true.” in turn, he believes the historian.

The issue of apologizing brings up the issue of financial compensation. One enters an unknown frame.
François Ryckmans, Belgian journalist specializing in memorial issues.

According to the journalist, questions related to the colonial past in Belgium were more advanced when commissions were created on a specific topic. “We made further progress with the Parliamentary Commission on Lumumba’s assassination. In this context, we have also made progress in the issue of the return of works of art.” the journalist explains.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission stressed that there is no political agreement on this issue of financial compensation. However, the Belgian State’s apology made it possible to open this dispute precisely around the issue of financial compensation.
Romain Landmeters, historian.

Should Belgium apologize for colonialism in Africa? “The question of an apology implies reparations. Symbolic reparations are powerful. Why not put a statue of Lumumba in Brussels? I believe in symbolic reparations, like the return of works of art. On the other hand, the question of an apology raises the question of financial compensation. We are entering a somewhat unknown framework. We can also see very well in the issue of compensation to Namibia,” François Ryckmans, a Belgian commemorative journalist, explains.

“It is not for nothing that King Philip used the phrase ‘regrets’ rather than ‘apology’ to describe colonialism in Belgium, especially during his visit to the DRC”.the journalist explains.

Germany in 2020 admitted to committing genocide in Namibia during the colonial era and pledged more than one billion euros in financial support to the descendants of the victims. Between 1904 and 1908, at least 60,000 Herero and about 10,000 Nama were killed. The Namibian government has been demanding a renegotiation of this agreement since 2021, which is considered insufficient.

“The chairman of the Parliamentary Commission emphasized to him that there is no political agreement on this issue of financial compensation. However, the apology of the Belgian state made it possible to open this debate on the issue of financial compensation,” Romain Landmeters, historian notes.

Is a political agreement possible?

Is a political agreement possible for the Belgian state to apologize for colonial violence? Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission, Wouter De Vriendt, hopes for a political consensus around the apology issue.

François Ryckmans, a journalist specializing in memorial issues in Belgium, is under suspicion. “I think this debate remains very ideological on both sides. The camp of environmentalists and socialists is in favor of an apology and perhaps financial reparations, failing to see that this colonial era remains complex. The side of liberals we don’t want to hear about makes excuses while ignoring the violent reality of this era. Reconciliation seems hard to find”The journalist says.

Historian Romain Landmeters said in an interview with TV5MONDE. “There will be no political settlement because Etta Blake will admit her guilt.”

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