Belgium’s King Philippe has expressed his “regrets” for “acts of violence” and “suffering” of the Congolese people during the colonial period.
He made the remarks in a letter to Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi on the country’s 60th anniversary of independence from Belgium.
Belgium’s King Leopold II seized a huge swathe in what is now DR Congo in the 1880s where as many as 10 million Africans were said to have been killed under his rule.
In his letter, King Philippe expressed remorse for “suffering” inflicted to the Congolese people, according to Belgian media reports.
“I would like to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is now revived by the discrimination still too present in our societies,” his letter is quoted as saying.
He is the first Belgian monarch to formally express remorse for atrocities committed in the colonial era.
Three weeks ago a statue of Leopold II in the city of Antwerp was removed following Black Lives Matter protests.
Who Was King Leopold II
King Leopold II was a violent, genocidal maniac in his own right. Leopold II became the king of Belgium in 1865, just as other European nations were expanding their empires in Africa.
With his connections and diplomatic skills, Leopold managed to convince European rulers to let him secure a chunk of the Congo—an area of land that was 76 times larger than Belgium itself!
He used explorer Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Leopold’s primary goal was to exploit the land as much as possible to make as much money as he could.
Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory.
Things became much worse for the people of the Congo as the demand for rubber exploded in the global market in the 1890’s. The rise in the price of rubber brought about forced labour from the natives to harvest and process rubber.
To terrorise the population into gathering rubber, Leopold’s men would take women as hostages until their menfolk brought in a sufficient quantity. Villages that resisted the system or failed to meet a quota were attacked and destroyed by the regions police. Individuals who failed to reach their quotas were killed, tortured, mutilated.
To ensure that the police weren’t wasting bullets on hunting wild game in the jungle, they were required to show proof that each bullet they expended resulted in the death of one of the Congolese natives. When the police couldn’t account for all the spent bullets, a terrible trade system began, in which they’d be provided with severed hands of villagers.
William Henry Sheppard , a Presbyterian missionary, who witnessed the devastating impact of the rubber terror on the Kuba people of Congo denounced it in his speeches and writings. For this he was Brought to trial for libel, but was later acquitted.
Finally Reports of deaths and abuse led to a major international scandal in the early twentieth century and the Belgian government ultimately forced Leopold to relinquish control of the colony to Belgian civil administration in 1908.
Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo was so inhuman and devastating that the country was depopulated. Measuring the scale of the catastrophe is difficult, but one demographic study estimated that the population was halved, from twenty million to ten million, between 1880 and 1920.