Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès marked the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence from Belgium with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in Ixelles on Tuesday.
Speaking before members of Brussels’ Congolese community, Wilmès expressed support for a recently launched parliamentary commission on Belgium’s colonial past in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The time has come for Belgium to embark on a journey of research, truth and remembrance,” Wilmès said. “In 2020, we must be capable of looking back on that past with lucidity and discernment.”
Representatives of Congolese non-profits, artists and owners of businesses in Ixelles’ bustling Matongé neighbourhood were invited to the event, which was also attended by Brussels’ Minister-President Rudi Vervoort and hosted by Ixelles Mayor Christos Doulkeridis.
The event featured live music as well as two a capella performances from Congolese artists, including a slam from Belgo-Congolese artists Pitcho Womba Konga, who made candid references to the ongoing debate about statues, memorials and reconciliation.
Wilmès statements on Tuesday coincided with a letter King Philippe sent to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi expressing his “deepest regrets” for the colonial crimes committed during Belgium’s colonial rule.
The king’s letter stopped short of an apology but marked the first time a Belgian king openly condemned Belgium’s crimes and exactions in the Congo, departing from the monarchy’s long-held view of Belgium’s colonial exploits as having brought civilisation to the DRC.
Wilmès said that the Belgian government was “perfectly aligned” with Philippe’s statements, even as she stressed that he had spoken in a personal capacity.
Sixty years after the end of Belgium’s rule over the Congo, Wilmès said it was important to “give enough time” to the parliamentary commission and declined to say whether its work would lead to official apologies from Belgium, which could open the door for Congo to demand reparations.
“The objective is not to rewrite history, but to better understand it,” she said. “We must not make any anticipations on the conclusions of the [commmission’s] work.”
The Brussels Times