Congolese politicians have demanded Belgium pays the DRC reparations after the Belgian King expressed remorse for the brutal colonial occupation of the African country for the first time.
King Philippe offered his “deepest regrets” in a letter to DRC president Felix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of independence on Tuesday and as the Black Lives Matter movement is forcing Belgians to examine the past.
Philippe’s great-great-great uncle Leopold II ruled a region containing the whole of the DRC as a private rubber-producing slave state. More than ten million Africans are estimated to have died in a “forgotten Holocaust”.
He was forced to surrender direct control of the Congo Free State in 1908 and Belgium formally annexed it, calling it the Belgian Congo until independence in 1960.
Pierre Kompany, who is Belgium’s first black mayor and moved to the country from the DRC as a child, praised King Philippe.
“In 60 years no one has done what he has done. In the 60 years since independence, he is the first to express his deep regrets,” Mr Kompany, who has faced racist death threats since becoming mayor of Ganshoren in Brussels, said.
“We must take that in a positive way and advance forward together,” the father of footballer Vincent Kompany told the Sunday Telegraph.
“Why not consider, very seriously, reparations for the victims, their relatives, especially for serious crimes? 60 years later, we have to talk about reparation," said André Lité, human rights minister in the DRC, who compared colonialisation to slavery.
"Acts of violence and atrocity were committed that continue to weigh on our collective memory,” Philippe said in his letter, “I continue to express my deepest regrets for those past wounds.”
Martin Fayulu, an unsuccessful DRC presidential candidate, told Le Monde Afrique that the King’s apology was “incomplete”.
Philippe stopped short of a full apology because of the risk of reparations but also because it is the role of the elected government to take such a step.
The Belgian parliament will set up a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the abuses and atrocities of colonisation, which could lead to a formal apology.
The United Nations has said racism suffered by those of African origin in Belgium can be traced to the country's failure to address its past.
The NGO Human Rights Watch called on Belgium to move from “regrets to reparations”.
Jean-Jacques Lumumba said that Belgium should invest in education in the DRC, and in particular the teaching of colonial history to make amends.
The anti-corruption activist is the grand-nephew of Patrice Lumumba, the DRC’s first leader after independence.
He was assassinated by firing squad in 1961 with Belgian officers present. On Wednesday, it emerged Belgian prosecutors were investigating if they could bring charges against two suspects for the killing of the charismatic independence leader.
The death of George Floyd began a debate in Belgium over the statues, monuments and place names celebrating Leopold, which have been vandalised.
In June, demonstrators waved the DRC flag and chanted “reparations” after climbing on a statue of a horse-mounted statue of Leopold outside the royal palace in Brussels and close to the Matonge Congolese district.
There is a campaign to remove statues of Leopold, who is still celebrated by some Belgians as a “builder king” after he spent his ill-gotten gains on landmark buildings in Belgium.
Mr Kompany said the parliamentary commission would discuss the statues and related matters in “calmness and serenity”.
“The country is advancing, the country is changing,” Mr Kompany said, “The next step is for Belgium and the DRC to embrace. They have to embrace each other."