Belgian King Expresses ‘Deepest Regrets’ for Colonial Past in Congo

Belgian Congo_Genocide_Leopold II
King Leopold II

It took over 100 years for a Belgian King to finally ‘express his deepest regrets‘ for Belgium’s colonial past in Congo. As we recall, King Leopold II of Belgium perpetrated a genocide in CongoLeopold II took Congo, a country at least 10 times the size of Belgium, as his private property and killed millions of Congolese. It is said that he must have executed and maimed over 15 million people!

 

So now, Belgian King Philippe wrote a letter to the president of Congo Felix Tshisekedi, on 30 June 2020, the anniversary of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo, stating: “During the time of the Congo Free State [1885-1908], acts of violence and brutality were committed that weigh still on our collective memory. The colonial period that followed also caused suffering and humiliations. I would like to express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of today, which is rekindled by the discrimination all too present in our society.” His remarks fell short of an apology! Should we applaud for this?

 

Belgian Congo_Genocide2
Picture of men holding cut-off hands (image by Alice S. Harris in Baringa 1904)

I say NO! To the Belgian King, I say you can eat your “deepest regrets”! Many are calling this progress, but I call this arrogance to wake up one day, and finally say, “I regret the past. Yes…, my grandfather committed acts of violence and brutality, killed your fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, … maimed your forefathers, decapitated so many of you … instilled fear into your psyche… destroyed your livelihood, your culture, and the entire foundation of your society.”

 

And so what? That’s it? Should we clap for you? where is the apology? Didn’t you think we knew that already? Where is the reparation? Don’t you know that Belgium is nothing without Congo? Coincidentally, King Philippe forgot to include the period following that time, from 1908 to the independence of Congo, and then to nowadays with the treacherous role played by Belgium in the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and countless others, and the unrest in the region to this day.

Patrice_Lumumba_official_portrait
Official portrait of Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of Congo

And to stand up there, and say I express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past”… it’s like Hitler waking up today, and telling Holocaust survivors and their descendants, “I killed you, jailed your parents, forced you into exile, brought fear into your souls, and decimated every part of you… I regret it. What can you about it? ” It is simply arrogant! … It is just too easy. Until there is a clear “I am sorry”, until there is a clear “here is what we will do to right the wrongs,” until there is a clear “correction and inclusion in the history textbooks, opening of all classified documents”…. until there is a clear “respect for those killed, and for those living today” until then, there will be no respect for arrogant kings who claim to have been awaken by George Floyd’s killing in the USA and not the atrocities they themselves committed in Congo!

We, the people of Congo, cannot forget… we cannot forget that the unrest in Congo today is a direct result of the atrocities committed by Belgium in the region. We cannot forget the souls of our ancestors who still cry to us for justice today.

 

Patrice Lumumba’s 1960 Address to the Congolese Youth

Patrice Emery Lumumba
Patrice Emery Lumumba

For the celebration on 30 June 1960 of the independence of Congo, we will do a trip down memory lane with this speech Patrice Lumumba addressed to the Congolese youth in August of 1960. In 1960, Patrice Lumumba was elected the first prime minister of the  Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Assassinated by Belgian colonialists and the CIA in 1961Lumumba was a founding member of the Movement National Congolais (MNC), which led Congo to independence. Today, Patrice Lumumba is the symbol of aspirations for an entire continent, and he continues to serve as an inspiration to contemporary Congolese and African politicians. His message here to the Congolese youth is really a message to the African youth. Enjoy! The full speech can be found in Patrice Lumumba: Fighter for Africa’s Freedom, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1961, p 33-36, by Patrice Lumumba (transcribed by Thomas Schmidt) here .

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Map of the DRC
Map of the DRC

Today I am addressing the youth, the young men and women of the Republic of the Congo.

In speaking to them, I am addressing these words to future generations because the future of our beloved country belongs to them.

We are fighting our enemies in order to prepare a better and happier life for our youth.

If we had been egoists, if we had thought only about ourselves we would not have made the innumerable sacrifices we are making.

I am aware that our country can completely liberate herself from the chains of colonialism politically, economically and spiritually only at the price of a relentless and sometimes dangerous struggle. Together with the youth of the country, we have waged this struggle against foreign rule, against mercantile exploitation, against injustice and pressure. 

DRC_flag
Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Young people who have been inactive and exploited for a long time have now become aware of their role of standard-bearer of the peaceful revolution.

The young people of the Congo have fought on our side in towns, villages and in the bush. Many of our young men have been struck down by the bullets of the colonialists. Many of them left their parents and friends in order to fight heroically for the cause of freedom. The resistance that the young people offered the aggressors in Leopoldville on January 4 and in Stanleyville on October 30, 1959, deserves every praise.

With deep emotion I bow in memory of these courageous patriots, these fighters for African freedom.

The time is not far distant when large numbers of young men and women were driven out of schools by their white teachers and instructors on the suspicion of having nationalist ideas. Many brilliantly gifted young people turned down the opportunity to receive a higher education for the simple reason that they no longer wished to be indoctrinated by the colonialists, who wanted to turn our young men and women into eternal servants of the colonial regime.

DRC_First_Congolese_government
Patrice Lumumba (center left) with his first government after his investiture outside the Palais de la Nation, 23 June 1960

During the heroic struggle of the Congolese nationalists, the young people, even those who were still sitting at school desks, resolutely opposed all new forms of colonialism, whether political, social, spiritual or religious.

Their only dream was national liberation. Their sole aim was immediate independence. Their only resolve was to wage an implacable struggle against the puppets and emissaries of the colonialists.

Thanks to the general mobilisation of all the democratic youth of the Congo, the Congolese nationalists won independence for the nation. We received this independence at the price of a grim struggle, at the price of all sorts of privations, at the price of tears and blood.

After independence was solemnly proclaimed on June 30, 1960, the colonialists and their black emissaries started a barbarous war in the young Republic of the Congo. They began this perfidious aggression because the nationalist Government now in power did not want them to continue exploiting our country as they did prior to June 30, the historic day when the people of our country said Adieu to the Belgian colonialists.

Not having any support whatever, particularly among the working class, who have had their fill of colonial exploitation, the colonialists and their henchmen now want to force certain sections of the youth to serve them in order to be able to propagandise the revival of colonialism. That is why a certain part of the youth, luckily not a very numerous part, have plunged into national defeatism.

Happily, the vast majority of the young people saw through this last attempt of the imperialists, who are turning into account the dissatisfaction of some malcontents, of those who failed in the elections because they did not have the confidence of the people.

This nationalist youth recently held demonstrations in various towns in the Republic to show their absolute and total opposition to imperialist intrigues.

DRC_Republic_of_the_Congo_(Léopoldville)_-_Commemoration_Independence_Stamp
Stamp commemorating the independence of Congo on 30 June 1960

Young people, I salute you, and congratulate you on your civic and patriotic spirit. Young people, specially for you I have created a Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports under the Central Government. It is your Ministry. It is at your disposal. Many of you, without any discrimination, will be called upon to direct this Ministry, its different services and activities.

Today, in the free and independent Congo we must not have a Bangala, National Unity Party, Association of Bakongo, Mukongo, Batetela or Lokele youth but a united, Congolese, nationalist, democratic youth. This youth will serve the social and economic revolution of our great and beloved country.

You must energetically combat tribalism, which is a poison, a social scourge that is the country’s misfortune today. You must combat all the separatist manoeuvres, which some of the preachers of the policy of division are trying to pass off to young and inexperienced people under the name of federalism, federation or confederation.

In reality, young people, these names are only a new vocabulary brought by the imperialists to divide us in order the better and more conveniently to exploit us. Your entire future will be threatened if you do not oppose these manoeuvres, this new, disguised colonisation.

Lumumba on a USSR stamp in 1961
Lumumba on a USSR commemorative stamp in 1961

You must be proud that you belong to a great nation, a great country, a mighty power. This power, which the imperialists envy today, is embodied in national unity. This unity must be the heritage that you, in your turn, shall leave to your children.

The Government will soon send 300 young people to study in the U.S.A., 150 in the Soviet Union and 20 in Guinea, not to mention other countries.

The Congo is no longer a national reservation, a national park, a zoo which we could not leave. Tomorrow you shall go everywhere to study, to learn a speciality, and to get to know the world. Workers, working people will have an equal share in these study missions.

You shall go everywhere, to all the parts of the world. These contacts with the outside world, this direct confrontation with the reality of life will make you experienced people, whom the free and independent Congo needs today.

You will go there not as representatives of Association of Bakongo, National Unity Party, Congo National Movement or African Regroupment Centre youth. You will be Congolese citizens, simply Congolese. And by your behaviour, devotion, intelligence and political maturity you must be a credit to your Congolese motherland.

Patrice_Lumumba_official_portrait
Official portrait of Patrice Lumumba

Young people, the Congo belongs to you. The national Government, the people’s Government will do everything in its power to prevent the Congo from being torn away from you.

Long live the Republic of the Congo!

Long live the people’s, democratic youth!

Historic Day in the Life of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

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Felix Tshisekedi on investiture day 24 January 2019

On Thursday January 24th 2019, the Democratic Republic of the Congo saw a new day: the investiture of Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi marked the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the DRC in 60 years, since the Belgium granted it independence. This marked a great day not only for the DRC, but for Central Africa, and for Africa as a whole. Felix Tshisekedi won the presidential elections in DRC, which were also entirely funded by the country itself under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila … this is also a first in the nation’s history and the history of many countries on the African continent. So in clear, this was an election of the Congolese people for the Congolese people, entirely funded by the Congolese themselves.

Tshisekedi said, “We want to build a strong Congo in its cultural diversity.” He further declared, “We will promote its development in peace and security. A Congo for each and everyone, where everybody has his or her own place.

Joseph Kabila, President of DRC
Joseph Kabila, outgoing President of DRC

Felix Tshisekedi is the son of Étienne Tshisekedi, a longtime beloved opposition leader who died in 2017, and has benefitted from the legacy his dad built. Tshisekedi is taking over the presidency from Joseph Kabila, the DRC’s president since 2001.

I take the time here to salute President Joseph Kabila who has allowed, by his selfless resolve to protect the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Joseph Kabila recently outlined some his achievements during his tenure of office, including the organization and total funding of the last democratic elections in 59 years, the construction of new infrastructures, the restoration of peace and the reunification of the country, and the financing of its own elections, and the peaceful passing of the banner to Felix Tshisekedi.

I live you here with Joseph Kabila’s last speech as President, and the passing of the baton, investiture of Felix Tshisekedi.

Why the name: Kinshasa?

Boulevard of 30 June, in Kinshasa
Boulevard of 30 June, in Kinshasa

Today I would like to talk about Kinshasa, the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It is located on the Congo River, which happens to be Africa’s largest river, the deepest river in the world, and the third largest in the world by the volume it discharges.  Kinshasa is a city of over 9 million inhabitants and directly faces Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo: these two sister cities are separated only by the river Congo (the only place in the world where two capitals of two countries face each other). Residents of Kinshasa are known as Kinois.

When did it all start? Well, Kinshasa was founded in 1881 as a trading post by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley who named it Leopoldville in honor of the Belgian king Leopold II, who controled the immense territory of DRC as his private property and not just as a colony.  Prior to 1920, all goods arriving by sea in Congo were carried by porters from Matadi (the main port city of Congo), and Leopoldville over 150 km from the coast.  From 1886 to 1926, Boma (located on the Congo estuary) was the capital of the Belgian Congo; but after 1926, Leopoldville became the capital.

Kinshasa, seen from the Congo river
Kinshasa, seen from the Congo river

In 1965, Joseph-Desire Mobutu who had risen to power after coups d’etat against Patrice Lumumba in 1960, and a second one in 1965,  renamed the city Kinshasa in an effort to africanize the names of the people and places in the country.  Kinshassa was the name of a village which used to be near the site of the present city.  In Kikongo, Kinshasa means “the salt market“:nshasa = salt” and locator ‘ki‘.

The region of Pool Malebo, where Kinshasa is located, has been inhabited since at least the first millenium before our era.  However, before colonization, different Bantu groups have occupied the area.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the region of Pool Malebo became a major commercial hub between the river basin and the coastal regions.  The Bobangis (also called Bangala, or people of the river) managed the major part of the commerce with the equatorial forest by navigating the river up to the Téké villages of Pool.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, more villages develop themselves in the area, which became known as the Batéké plateau.  The principal Téké villages were Nsasa with almost 5,000 inhabitants, and Ntambo with at least 3,000.  By the time Henry Morton Stanley reached the area on 12 March 1878, the region was already home to 66 villages, and a total population of over 30,000 inhabitants.  Stanley chose this location as it was the area where the Congo river became navigable.

Map of the DRC
Map of the DRC

By the time the city changed its name from Leopoldville to Kinshasa in 1966, the city rapidly grew due to rural exodus of people coming from all parts of the country in search of a better life.  In 1974, Kinshasa hosted ‘The Rumble in the Jungleboxing match, a historic match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which Ali defeated Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight title.  This has been one of Ali’s most famous matches: if you watch the movie Ali, you can see scenes of Kinshasa there.

Situated in an area belonging to the Batéké and Bahumbu people, the lingua franca of the city is the Lingala, while the administrative language is French.  Kinshasa is also a province of DRC (a bit like the district of Columbia in the US), and is the second largest francophone city in the world, after Paris.  Its current population is 9 million inhabitants, making it Africa’s second largest cities after Lagos in Nigeria.  Please check out the website for the city of Kinshasa, and Kinshasa-Congo travel to learn about the great city of music and art; I also liked the blog kosubaawate which goes through the evolution of Kinshasa then and now (i.e. before independence and now).  Enjoy the video below which I enjoyed for its quality, music, and of course its great content.

28 Nov. 2011: Presidential Elections in DRC

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Today is election day in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I would like to share with you this article by Antoine Roger Lokongo which I found quite interesting and deep, about the third presidential elections in the DRC after 51 years of independence, with a brief history of DRC since independence.  I have included some snippets from the article which I liked. You can read the full article on Panafrican Vision; it is entitled: D.R. Congo Democracy at crossroads – One election, two sources of legitimacy.

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‘Countries do not have permanent friends or allies, they have only permanent interests’

… when Joseph Kabila turned to the Western powers for assistance after the 2006 elections, they said they had other priorities.  Perhaps this was a wake-up call for Joseph Kabila.  This is how, in an interview given to Gettleman of the New York Times, Joseph Kabila himself explained why he turned to the Chinese for help after being disappointed with the West’s empty promises:
‘We said we had five priorities: infrastructure; health; education; water and electricity; and housing.  Now, how do we deal with these priorities?  We need money, a lot of money.  Not a 100 million U.S. dollars from the World Bank or 300 from the IMF [International Monetary Fund].  No, a lot of money, and especially that we’re still servicing a debt of close to 12 billion dollars, and it’s 50 to 60 million U.S. dollars per month, which is huge.  You give me 50 million dollars each month for the social sector and we move forward.  Anyway, that’s another chapter.  But we said: so, we have these priorities, and we talked to everybody.  Americans, do you have the money?  No!  Not for now!  The European Union, do you have three or four billion for these priorities?  No!  We have our own priorities.  Then we said: ‘why not talk to other people, the Chinese?’  So we said, [Chinese] do you have the money? And they [the Chinese] said, well, we can discuss.  So we discussed’.

Joseph Kabila, President of DRC
Joseph Kabila, President of DRC

This interview suggests that Joseph Kabila turned to the Chinese only after seeking help from Western powers.  That is exactly the dilemma Patrice Lumumba faced. Increasingly desperate, Patrice Lumumba went on an international trip to enlist Western support (including to Washington, London, Brussels…) to have Belgian troops who had orchestrated the secession of Katanga to leave immediately.  He did not get the support he expected and turned to the Russians for help.  He was immediately accused of being a communist and eventually assassinated.
Congolese leaders turn to other partners other than the ‘traditional Western partners’ because they are in need; and a friend in need is a friend indeed!  They do not mean necessarily to play of the West against the East and so on.  When Joseph Kabila turned to the West, the DRC was almost on the verge of bankruptcy. …

The question we want to deal with now therefore is: ‘What happened after Joseph Kabila turned to the Chinese in his country’s hours of needs?’ Continue reading “28 Nov. 2011: Presidential Elections in DRC”