Belgium's king returns a mask to Congo

STORY: Belgium's King Philippe returned a traditional mask to Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday (June 8).

It was, he said, a symbolic gesture - in a country where many remain angry at Belgium's failure to formally apologize for decades of brutal colonial rule.

"I wanted, during our visit at the national museum and in your presence, to return to you this exceptional work in order to allow Congolese to discover and admire it."

The initiation mask of the Suku people has been held for decades at Belgium's Royal Museum for Central Africa.

It was offered to Congo's national museum in Kinshasa in what the monarch called an "indefinite loan".

"It marks the symbolic beginning of the reinforcement of the cultural collaboration between Belgium and Congo."

By some estimates killings, famine and disease killed up to 10 million Congolese people in just the first 23 years of Belgium's 75-year-rule - a period in which King Leopold II claimed the country as his personal property.

Perhaps most notoriously, villages that missed rubber collection quotas were made to provide severed hands instead.

In 2020, Philippe became the first Belgian official to express regret for the “suffering and humiliation” inflicted on Congo.

But he stopped short of saying sorry.

Some Congolese are demanding an official apology his the first visit of his reign to the country.

Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi and many other politicians have, however, enthusiastically welcomed the royal visit.

So too some residents who hope it will bring investment and a renewed focus on conflict in the east of the country.