Belgian King Returns Masks to Congo in Landmark Go to
DAKAR, Senegal — The king of Belgium on Wednesday handed over a big wood masks to the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one among hundreds of objects taken way back to the European nation from its former colony.
King Philippe, on his first go to to the nation since assuming the throne in 2013, stated that handing over the masks to the Congolese president, Felix Tshisekedi, was an vital symbolic step.
However for a lot of Congolese, talking out on social media, it was not almost sufficient. They requested for an apology: for the infamous crimes meted out to their ancestors with a purpose to enrich the king’s forebear, Leopold II, who claimed the territory as his private fiefdom in 1885 and plundered it for greater than 20 years.
The return of the Kakungu masks, utilized by the Suku folks within the nation’s southwest throughout ceremonies, was not a full restitution. It’s on “indefinite mortgage,” the king stated.
“I’m right here to return to you this distinctive work with a purpose to permit Congolese to find and admire it,” he stated.
It was a small, symbolic second towards Belgium’s growing acknowledgment of its exploitation of Congo, which at present is tormented by violence and poverty regardless of its wealth of pure assets.
The restitution of looted works is excessive on the agenda for the king’s six-day go to, which coincides with ongoing parliamentary debates in Belgium a few new draft legislation that will pave the way in which for some objects to be returned.
Belgium handed the Congolese authorities a list in February of greater than 84,000 artworks taken to Belgium earlier than Congo’s independence in 1960. These objects make up 70 % of the gathering within the Royal Museum for Central Africa, simply outdoors Brussels.
“Belgium not seems to be at Africa in the identical method,” Thomas Dermine, the Belgian official who’s overseeing the restitution of artwork objects to Congo, advised the Africa Report final week.
However some Congolese residents took to Twitter to say that the king didn’t go far sufficient. “The Belgian king just isn’t welcome within the DRC,” stated one, Roger Kakul. “He simply must apologize to the Congolese folks.”
King Leopold II turned his non-public fortunes round on the backs of the Congolese folks, forcing them at hand over quotas of rubber and ivory utilizing torture and homicide in what the Congolese professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja referred to as “the Congo holocaust.” Whereas funding antislavery conferences in Europe, he inspired slave raids in central Africa.
He was pressured to relinquish Congo as his private possession in 1908, and it turned a colony of Belgium, underneath which the brutality subsided however oppression and the system of financial exploitation remained.
King Philippe expressed remorse for Belgium’s crimes in a letter to President Tshisekedi in 2020, on the sixtieth anniversary of Congo’s independence, however stopped in need of apologizing. He echoed that sentiment in an deal with to the Congolese parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
“The colonial regime was based mostly on exploitation and domination.” the king stated in his speech. “This regime was that of an unequal relationship, in itself unjustifiable, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he added. “On the event of my first journey to Congo, right here, in entrance of the Congolese folks, and people who nonetheless endure from it at present, I want to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these wounds of the previous,” he stated.
Later this month, Belgium can also be scheduled to return the stays of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first prime minister, who was assassinated in 1960 following a coup supported by the Belgian authorities. All that will likely be returned is a gold-capped tooth pulled from his mouth by Belgian police earlier than his physique was dissolved in acid.
Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels.
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