'Deepest regret,' but no apology: King Philippe acknowledges colonial cruelties

'Deepest regret,' but no apology: King Philippe acknowledges colonial cruelties
Belgium's King Philippe giving a speech in Kinshasa, DCR. Credit: Belga

In a long-awaited speech given in front of the Palais du Peuple in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), King Philippe expressed his "deepest regret" for the atrocities of Belgium's colonial past in the country.

The speech in front of the Congolese parliament was the most eagerly awaited part of the week-long state visit by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. The King expressed his "deepest regret for the wounds of the past," but stopped short of offering an official apology for the atrocities committed by Belgium during the colonial period.

"Although many Belgians gave the best of themselves in Congo at the time, sincerely loved the country and its inhabitants, the colonial regime was based on exploitation and domination," King Philippe said.

Paternalism, discrimination and racism

He stressed that the regime was based "on a relationship of inequality that was unjustifiable," adding that it was characterised by "paternalism, discrimination and racism" and "gave rise to misdeeds and humiliations."

"On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, I would like to express here, before the Congolese people and all those who are still suffering from it today, my deepest regret for those wounds of the past," King Philippe stressed.

With these words, he repeated the message he wrote in a letter to the Congolese President on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the country's independence in 2020. While the King went into a bit more detail now, he again did not offer a formal apology – as that could lead to a Congolese demand for (economic) reparations.

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In the second part of his speech, King Philippe looked ahead and expressed concern about security in the country, saying that Belgium shares the "major concerns" for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the DRC.

"Even before independence, the future Prime Minister Lumumba called for the preservation of the unity of the Congolese nation," he said. "Today, the instability in the east of the country, where inhuman violence and impunity all too often reign, remains a great source of concern for all of us."

He stressed that Belgium wants to continue to contribute to all initiatives that offer more good governance, prosperity, health, security and justice in Congo. "Our commitment to the DRC remains unchanged: we will continue to provide strong support for the stabilisation and democratisation of the country, as well as respect for human rights."

The King concluded his speech with "Long Live Congo" in the four national languages spoken in the country as well as in French, which is the administrative language.

The King's full speech can be read here in Dutch and in French.

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