By Owei Lakemfa
KING Philippe of Belgium descends from his heavenly throne this week to sign a letter to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, acknowledging for the first time in 113 years, Belgium’s genocide in that country. Philippe danced round the subject of his country’s massacre of over 15 million Congolese men and women, children and adults, the old and the young.
He mentioned “deepest regrets” for the “suffering and humiliation” Belgium inflicted on the African people. But he never rendered an apology. That would be too much for a Belgian monarch, one of whose predecessors, King Leopold II, led Belgians to inflict unconscionable pain on humanity. Rather, he talked glibly about the need “to further strengthen our ties and develop an even more fruitful friendship”, adding “we must be able to talk about our long common history in all truth and serenity”.
It was to mark this Tuesday, the 60th anniversary of the DRC’s independence, one which lasted three months before the murderous Belgians and their British and American first cousins unleashed another round of atrocities, murdering more Congolese for another four decades.
Belgium’s genocide in the DRC has been the bloodiest, most atrocious, most inhumane and most outrageous in human history. While the Holocaust in which some six million Jews were exterminated by the Germans in one of the most insane acts ever perpetuated by human beings is still being talked about, documented and made into films with memorials, there is silence in the Congo case which had three times more casualties.
The difference is that those killed in the Holocaust were Whites while the victims in the Congo were Blacks. That is why the beneficiaries of the African tragedy who, until today, swim in the riches stolen by King Leopold II cannot apologise not to talk about returning part of the stolen wealth. Leopold II from his business of killing so many human beings and amputating hands and limbs, made a personal profit of some 220 million francs (or $1.1 billion in today’s dollars) from a country he never set foot.
In his insulting letter, King Philippe, a cousin of the butcher Leopold II wrote: “Our history is made of common achievements but has also experienced painful episodes. During the period of the Congo Free State, acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory.” What are the “common achievements” between the robbery squads from the Belgian monarchy and governments, and the Congolese people?
Leopold II wiped out villages that did not meet his rubber quota demands, children as young as five years were amputated if they were found not to be hard working; it was death penalty for adults who did not meet quota allocations. For education, the Belgians allowed only orphans to be taught in Catholic schools, to be soldiers or workers for the King. His criminal enterprise also brought people from China, Nigeria, the Caribbean, Zanzibar and other African countries to slave in the DRC.
Although they were all colonialists carrying out forced labour, theft, exploitation of the African peoples and massacre of the colonised people, and despite being first cousin of Britain’s Queen Victoria, the European establishment thought Leopold’s atrocities were too extreme and moved against him by establishing an International Commission which confirmed the genocide. But rather than allow the Congolese to be free, the country was handed over to the Belgian government whose further 52-year rule was better only by degrees.
If the King cannot apologise, what about the Belgian government? In 2019 during a visit to Belgium, a team of United Nations Human Rights experts established “clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium”. So, will such a system apologise to the African people?
Yes, there have been Black Lives Matter protests in Belgium during which some made critical remarks against Leopold II, but there are many in the country’s leadership who see nothing wrong in his criminalities. Just in June, Prince Laurent, King Philippe’s brother, rose to the defence of Leopold II with the unintelligent talk: “He never went to [DR Congo] himself. I do not see how he could have made people there suffer.”
He, however, said whenever he met African heads of state he always apologised “for the actions Europeans have done to Africans in general”. That is his way of saying Belgians were not the only criminals who looted Africa blind. A possible difference is that while other Europeans looted Africa as governments or traders and colonised it, Leopold II saw the DRC as his personal estate over which he had proprietorial control over its people, resources and lands like a man owns a farm and its animals.
Yes, to him, Africans were not human beings, they were at best animals who were not even entitled to animal rights. Yet the size of the DRC is 2.345 million kilometres while the entire Belgium is 30,689 kilometres, which means the DRC is 7,581 percent larger.
Despite the documentation of his unspeakable Hitlerite actions, Leopold believed he was a missionary. He was quoted as saying: “I undertook the work of the Congo in the interest of civilisation and for the good of Belgium.”
The DRC was led to independence by a principled trade unionist, Patrice Lumumba, a former postal worker. Within weeks of the June, 1960 independence, the Belgians sent troops to strengthen a revolt in the Katanga region. As Prime Minister, Lumumba asked for United Nations troops, but under the influence of Belgium, Britain and United States whose President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered Lumumba’s assassination, the UN troops put Lumumba under house arrest.
He escaped from the UN troops but was captured in flight. Taken to the rebel enclave of Katanga where he and two other senior officials were tied to trees in the forest and executed under the command of the Belgian troops. The corpses were then butchered and soaked in acid. One of the Belgian officers, Gerard Soete, took Lumumba’s teeth as trophy which until today, is kept in his house in Belgium.
The DRC, Africa’s richest country in terms of natural resources, remains unstable until today with local and international gangsters roaming the country and looting its resources.