At the end of next month - the 30th of June – the Democratic Republic of Congo will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence. But the relations between this anguished country and its former colonizer are still tense. Belgians still feel wedged between wounded pride and guilt. And the debate about whether His Majesty the King of Belgium should attend the festivities or not brought up all these feelings and doubts again.
Eventually the Belgian government announced it had accepted president Kabila’s invitation for king Albert II to visit the Congo on Independence Day and thus we can expect to see the latter showing up in the entourage of the first. Do We Have To Be Happy Now?
Even I, born 1990 - 40 years after the last colonizer moved out -, feel uncomfortable when talking about the Dark Decades in Belgian history. Everyone knows the stories about plundered resources, exploitation and severed hands; slavery and red rubber to provide the wealth and greatness that fitted into king Leopold’s megalomania.
Later however, in the days of king Baudoin, railroads were build and trains exported goods again, salaries were paid every month, education was provided through missionaries, etc. People could speak of progress. Now, progress is something belonging to the past. Factories, railway stations and harbours which were once filled with busy people and noises, which once provided work for thousands of families are now places of dust and rusty machines, train wrecks and sometimes a single fishing boat. But yes, we took their minerals and gave match rods in return.
So is Belgium responsible for Congo’s downturn? Partly, yes.
Do the Congolese bear guilt too? Of course.
But the question whether or not it was a good decision to let our king attend the festivities on the day of the anniversary, side by side with president Kabila, I cannot answer for sure. If we had refused, the diplomatic relations between Congo and Belgium would have deteriorated again (and we just kind of restored them), but now it might give the impression we support a government known for its war crimes and corruption. Then again, does Belgium as the former colonizer and suppressor of the country has the right to demand good governance from Congo?
(Main photo by Carl de Keyser)