On June 30th 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) marked its 60th anniversary of independence from Belgium. DRC achieved its independence on June 30th 1960.
The current King Philippe of Belgium has recently expressed his ‘deepest regrets’ for Belgium’s colonial past and atrocities in the DRC. In a letter addressed to the DRC’s President, Félix Tshisekedi, the Belgian King wrote that he wanted to ‘express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of which is revived today by discriminations that are still too present in our societies’.
This letter was the first public recognition by a member of the Belgian royal family of the suffering caused by Belgium during its colonial rule.
In the past weeks, there have been widespread anti-racism protests across Belgium. Some protests in Brussels, a city in Belgium, involved over 10,000 people. These protests have also called for the removal of these statues and for acknowledgement of Belgium’s colonial past. Some statues of King Leopold II, an infamous colonial ruler, have been removed across Belgium
THE COLONIAL HISTORY OF THE DRC
The DRC is one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries. The abundance of minerals, such as diamond and cobalt, and other natural resources made the Congo region very attractive to colonial rulers.
King Leopold II of Belgium ruled the Congo territory from 1885 and named it the Congo Free State. Under his rule, he forced the local population to produce rubber and ivory. Leopold made a lot of money from his exploitation of Congo territory and Congolese people.
Millions of Congolese people died as a result of his exploitation. There was systematic brutality under his rule, including frequent murder, torture and crimes against humanity. A lot of this brutality was conducted by the Force Publique, King Leopold II’s police force.
Modern estimates of the number of deaths from Leopold II’s rule range from 1-15 million. Most figures estimate about 10 million Congolese deaths resulting from his rule.
In 1908, King Leopold II handed over the rule of the Congo territory to Belgium. From 1908 it became known as the Belgian Congo and was ruled by Belgium.
Congo achieved independence from Belgium on June 30th 1960, under the name the Republic of Congo (different to the current country of the Republic of the Congo or RDC). Patrice Lumumba was elected as the first Prime Minister and Joseph Kasa-Vubu became the first President.
However, in 1965 Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (later known as Mobutu Sese Soke) came to power through a coup d’état. Mobutu renamed the country Zaire and ruled it under a dictatorship.
The DRC has faced significant violence and instability, including two civil wars, under the rule of Mobutu and later rulers.
The DRC has also recently achieved its first peaceful transfer of power in its post-colonial history. On January 25th 2019, Félix Tshisekedi won the election, resulting in the first peaceful transfer of power in the DRC’s 60-year history.
This 60 year anniversary of the DRC’s independence from Belgium is a day of celebration for all.