King of the Belgians and the year of Patrice Lumumba

King Philippe is visiting Kinshasa this week to resume relations with the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted at 7:00 am

Jean Christophe Lawrence

Jean Christophe Lawrence

age. That’s all that remains of Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated in January 1961.

For more than 50 years, these relics have fueled all illusions and all speculation regarding the involvement of Belgium in the murder of this independence hero, who became the first head of government in this Central African country.

Preserved by the cop who witnessed the execution, this now-legendary piece sometimes disappears, sometimes reappears, before it was seized by the Belgian government.

Associated Press photo archive

Former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, 24 July 1960

A true saga that must finally find its end, the molar in question must be returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to return it to its heirs.

A strong gesture that will allow the family to grieve.

Belgian-Congolese activist Calvin Soures, who campaigned especially for the creation of Patrice Lumumba Square in Brussels

This would not be the only step forward in the turbulent history that unites Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After a year of expressing his “deep regret” over the “wounds and suffering” caused by the Belgian colonization of the Congo (1885-1960), King Philip of the Belgians actually went to Kinshasa this week to give “new breath” to relations. Between the two countries, which has been very complicated since the independence of the Congo in 1960.

The King will be accompanied by the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexandre de Croo, a large government delegation and businessmen responsible for establishing new economic partnerships with the former colony, now headed by President Felix Tshisekedi.

This royal visit is the first since that of Albert II, Philip’s father, in 2010. But it takes place in an entirely different context, as the debate over Belgium’s colonial past continues to unleash emotions.

While the descendants of the Congolese Belgians are demanding financial reparations and working to “decolonize mentalities” in Belgium, a United Nations report three years ago ruled that the country of Tintin should make a formal apology to the African state, which has yet to be done. The Black Lives Matter movement has amplified this wave of history reform.

“To talk about colonialism in a precise way is almost impossible today. It is a debate that extends far beyond that, affecting the academic, political or military world and I do not see a lull in it”, stresses historian Pierre-Luc Plasman, who specializes in the colonization of the Congo.

It is clear that King Philippe’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a step in the right direction, adds his colleague Vincent Dujardin, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain. Especially since the king risks publicly shocking Belgian colonialism, something that his predecessors had not done before.

For the historian, this “desire to acknowledge the realities of the colonial past” should make it possible to “calm memory” and “build a common future on this basis” with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It’s a signal,” he says, “it shows that Belgium is crossing the border.”

A “symbolic and historical” response

There was talk of the king himself bringing the teeth of Patrice Lumumba to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The two will eventually make the trip separately, and the antiquities will not be returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo until the end of June.

Calvin Soiresse admits that this redemption has “symbolic and historical” significance. But it’s far from closing the file, he says.

20 years ago, a parliamentary commission of inquiry concluded that Belgium bore “moral responsibility” in the assassination of Lumumba. Except that the complaint of conspiracy and war crimes against the Belgian state is still ongoing, Mr Soiresse notes that of the 12 officials targeted by the investigation, two are still alive.

“So the criminal issue has not been settled,” summarizes the activist.


Demonstrators hold anti-Belgium and pro-Patrice Lumumba banners on February 11, 1961, after the disappearance of the Congolese politician

Let us remember that in the political chaos that followed the independence of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, then prime minister, was captured by the rebel forces in the Katanga province, with the complicity of the Belgian authorities and the CIA, who recognized the pro-Soviet man.

Lumumba was executed, then cut into pieces and dissolved in acid along with two of his brothers in arms. But Belgian police officer Gerard Sweet, who was present during the operation, would have kept one of his teeth, until the Belgian judiciary required him to do so.

Are the remains original? mystery. No DNA test has yet been performed.

But for Calvin Soiresse, the question is asked elsewhere.

Rather, it will be a question of how the DRC will benefit from this recovery by bringing to fruition the legacy of Patrice Lumumba, who is today considered a key figure in the history and the Congolese nation.

Is it a propaganda ploy or a real desire to rehabilitate the man and his political thought? Asked. This, the future will tell us…”

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