Matteo Cogliati / Hans Lucas

No apology or reparations, but an attempt to salvage the work of Belgium’s Congo commission

An apology for excesses during the colonial period in Congo or reparation payments are not forthcoming, but in an attempt to rescue some of the work of the Belgian parliamentary select committee (or commission in Belgian parlance) that looked at the issue Flemish green lawmaker Wouter De Vriendt intends to table a resolution containing the committee’s other recommendations.

It was clear from the start of the workings of the committee that Congo shouldn’t be looking forward to reparations, but lawmaker De Vriendt had expected there would be an apology for Belgium’s role in Congo’s colonial past.  This would be an apology that went further than the voicing of regrets by Filip, King of Belgians, in June of this year during his visit to Congo.  Mr De Vriendt claims there was growing consensus in the committee over an apology till “the leaderships of the liberal parties and several ministers’ offices intervened”.  Last week Wouter De Vriendt also pointed an accusing finger at the palace claiming several MPs had been contacted by the palace with regard to reparations, apologies and other sensitive issues.

Mr De Vriendt’s allegations were denied and, if true, would form a pretty unprecedented interference by the palace, but the lawmaker is sticking to his guns, though he says he can’t provide cast iron evidence for his allegations.

The MP now intends to table a resolution in parliament including the remaining recommendations with regard to restoration and reconciliation.  “I want to prevent the committee’s work having been for nothing” he told VRT.

The select committee formulated exactly 127 recommendations, if those on apologies and reparations are put to one side.  144 people and organisations shared their views with the committee.  In Congo and in Rwanda and Burundi, the two countries administered by Belgium under an international mandate after the Great War, conversations were held with 150 people.

Remaining recommendations include the establishment of a knowledge centre on our colonial past, the honouring of people of the Métis group, (the children of Belgian fathers and African mothers removed from their mothers and often brought to Belgium), the earlier opening up of colonial archives, the erection of a monument to Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese Prime Minister, thought to have been killed with Belgian complicity, as well as a new name for the Belgian Leopold II Order in the honours’ system.

Mr De Vriendt hopes the Belgian parliament will approve his resolution, which carries moral weight but provides no obligation, within weeks.

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