After the official visit has already been postponed three times in two years, Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde will finally be leaving on a week-long state visit to Congo on Tuesday, the Palace announced.
King Philippe was already scheduled to travel to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, in the summer of 2020 for the festivities of the country's 60th anniversary of independence from Belgium, but the visit could not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A year later, the King announced another attempt but a new Covid-19 wave prevented that visit as well. In March 2022, the trip was postponed a third time following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Not since 2010 has a Belgian king visited Congo, and Philippe is only the seventh royal to visit Belgium's former colony in history. The 2010 visit was made by then-King Albert II to attend the celebrations of 50 years of Congolese independence, but he did not speak in public.
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At that time, relations between Belgium and Congo, then led by President Joseph Kabila, were very sensitive. The delegation was also kept small, with the only politician in attendance being then-Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
Since the election of President Félix Tshisekedi in 2019, however, relations between Belgium and Congo have been on the mend and several federal ministers have travelled to the country.
This week, Philippe and Mathilde will be accompanied by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir and State Secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine.
Spread over three days in Kinshasa, Philippe and Mathilde will have several meetings with President Tshisekedi, and on Wednesday, both the King and the President will make speeches in the Congolese parliament building.
Exactly what the King will say is being kept secret, but it is expected that he wants to contribute to "the new wind" that is blowing through the country's bilateral relations.
During a visit to the National Museum in Kinshasa, a mask that was taken to Belgium during the colonial period will be returned. During his visit at the end of last year, Dermine had already indicated that Belgium was willing to examine the return of all goods and works of art from the colonial period that are now in the possession of federal institutions.
Additionally, to do justice "to the vastness and diversity of the country," the delegation will also travel to Lubumbashi in the south where the King will visit the Belgian school and the university. They will later visit Bukavu in the east, where they will visit the Panzi Hospital of Congolese gynaecologist and human rights activist Denis Mukwege.
Mukwege was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his global efforts in the fight against the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.