A lot of things have happened in the past weeks or so. Let’s retrospectively interrogate Belgium’s regrets over the callous murder and brutal treatment of Congolese during colonialism when millions lost their lives.
On July 1, the King of Belgium sent his “deepest regrets” to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the “suffering and humiliation” his nation inflicted when it was a colonial power. But as has become custom, he felt short of apologising for his ancestor Leopold II’s atrocities.
The message from the King of Belgium was sent to the DRC President Felix Tshisekedi ahead of the country’s annual independence celebrations on June 30.
So on the 60th anniversary of the DRC’s independence, King Philipe of Belgium wrote a letter to President Tshisekedi in which he admitted that “to further strengthen our ties and develop an even more fruitful friendship, we must be able to talk about our long common history in all truth and serenity.”
Although the letter was described as a watershed moment in Belgium’s colonial history, and an unusual admission of imperialist sins from the royal family, many believe that what the Congolese and all Africans who suffered all forms of dehumanisation during colonialism want is first a formal apology and second reparations.
It continues to be a serious miscarriage of justice judging by the current international law that Africa is yet to be atoned for being murdered, abused and treated like animals during slavery and have had to suffer the ignominy of having their women raped, resources pillaged and treated like second class citizens in their own respective countries.
Africans of this post-colonial period would have surely failed future generations if they fail to push for reparations for the sins committed during slavery and colonialism. It is just and fair call so that similar heinous acts would not be repeated again.
If Germany was able to pay reparations to Israel for the murder of Jews during Hitler’s rule, why should it be impractical to pay reparations for murder, abuse and brutal colonial rule in DRC, Kenya, Zimbabwe and all other countries that slavery and colonialism.
Pressured by Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, then German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer agreed to pay three billion German marks in reparations to Israel between 1953 and 1976. Germany also had to pay 450 million German marks to the World Jewish Congress, an international federation of Jewish communities and organisations.
In equating with the mid-century rate of four German marks equivalent to US$1, it means Israel got US$7 billion and US$1 billion went to the Jewish Congress.
In negotiating the German reparations agreement of 1952, Ben-Gurion beseeched the biblical question, from Kings 21:29, “Have you murdered and also inherited?”
Germany’s post-wart Chancellor Adenauer knew that, for the German people, the answer was yes and in response to Ben-Gurion’s question, he responded by saying: “In the name of the German people, unspeakable crimes were committed which create a duty of moral and material restitution.”
By 1956, the German state was supplying 87.5 percent of Israel’s state revenue. The young new country used the money to buy equipment and raw materials to build up its industry, railways and electrical grid mining equipment, irrigation, and fuel were also high on the list of Israel’s reparations-fuelled development priorities.
So if Germany acknowledges that “unspeakable crimes were committed which create a duty of moral and material restitution” why is the same not possible when it comes to African countries like the DRC? The precedence was made by Germany and I think Belgium must do the honourable thing by paying restitution to the Congolese people.
A research by Jules Marchal, a Belgian scholar, estimates a modest amount of 220 million francs (41.1 billion in today’s dollars) that King Leopold profited from Congo’s pillage.
Now picture this. An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in Germany between 1941-1945. Contrast this with an estimated 15 million in the period from 1885 to 1908 in the DRC at a time when the country was a colonial under the personal rule of King Leopold II of the Belgians. Why are Africans treated as lesser beings? At what cost should we remain mum and powerless in the face of continued injustice against Africans?
Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, the call for reparations seems to be gathering momentum in the United States and across the globe. In Belgium a statue in the grounds of the Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa, featuring a bust of King Leopold II, was mockingly covered in red paint and topped with a traffic cone “dunce’s cap”
One improbable leader of the movement in Belgium is a 14-year old called Noah, whose petition to take down Brussels’ monuments has been signed tens of thousands of times.
In an interview with the media, young Noah was unequivocal in that what he wants are “concrete acts” and lamented that “there are still people who don’t know this history . . . there are lots of people who want to deny or don’t understand what happened.
It is very much about finding the truth. It is never too late. Perhaps it could have happened 60 years ago, but it happens now it is good.”
How much of Europe of today was built of colonial resource looting? How much was Rhodes’ personal wealth a result of murder and looting of African resources? How much of the United States today was built of the sweat, blood and murder of black lives uprooted in Africa to work on plantations and in all sorts of industries for nothing?
Until there is moral restitution for these crimes against humanity committed during colonial conquests, these questions will never die. More than just an apology, Africa must be compensated.