Belgium’s King Philippe reaffirmed his deepest regrets on Wednesday for the exploitation, racism and acts of violence during his country’s colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but again stopped short of formally apologizing.
Philippe became the first Belgian official two years ago to express regret for colonization, and some Congolese hoped he would issue a formal apology during his first visit to Congo since taking the throne in 2013.
“Even though many Belgians invested themselves sincerely, loving Congo and its people deeply, the colonial regime itself was based on exploitation and domination,” he told a joint session of parliament in the capital Kinshasa.
“This regime was one of unequal relations, unjustifiable in itself, marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism,” he said.
“It led to violent acts and humiliations. On the occasion of my first trip to Congo, right here, in front of the Congolese people and those who still suffer today, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for those wounds of the past.”
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and many politicians have enthusiastically welcomed Philippe’s visit. Large numbers of ruling party supporters waved Belgian flags, and a banner hanging from parliament read: “A common history.”
But others were disappointed by the absence of an apology.
By some estimates, killings, famine and disease caused the deaths of up to 10 million Congolese during just the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule from 1885 to 1960, when King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom.
Villages that missed rubber collection quotas were notoriously made to provide severed hands instead.
“I salute the speech by the Belgian king. However, in the face of the crimes committed by Belgium, regrets are not enough,” Congolese opposition Senator Francine Muyumba Nkanga wrote on Twitter.
“We expect an apology and a promise of reparations from him. That is the price to definitively turn the page,” she said.