Belgian royal couple to visit Congo for the first time in 12 years
Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are leaving for a state visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday. The last visit of a Belgian king to the former colony dates back ten years and this is only the seventh Belgian royal visit to Congo in history.
The royal visit has already been postponed three times. King Philippe was supposed to travel to Kinshasa in the summer of 2020 for the festivities surrounding the 60th anniversary of Congolese independence, but the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works. A second attempt was planned a year later, but once again Covid-19 prevented the state visit from taking place. The trip was postponed a third time because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Last visit in 2010
Albert II was the last Belgian king to visit Congo in 2010. Albert attended the celebrations of fifty years of Congolese independence, but did not speak in public. Relations between the two countries were very sensitive at the time. The delegation was also kept small, with the only politician in attendance being Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
This week, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde will be accompanied by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Development Minister Meryame Kitir and State Secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine. Relations between Belgium and Congo have been improving since 2019, following the election of Felix Tshisekedi as president. Several Belgian federal ministers have travelled to the country since then.
Elections will be held again in Congo in 2023, so this period is considered the last chance for a state visit without influencing that process. Spread over three days in Kinshasa, the royal couple will have several meetings with Tshisekedi. On Wednesday, both the King and the President will hold a speech in the Congolese parliament building. What the King will talk about is being kept secret, but he supposedly intends to contribute to the new wind that is blowing through bilateral relations.
Return of goods and works
During a visit to the National Museum in Kinshasa, a mask that had been brought to Belgium during the colonial period will be returned. During his visit at the end of last year, Dermine had already indicated that Belgium was willing to examine the return of all goods and works of art from the colonial period that are now in the possession of Belgian federal institutions.
After visiting the capital, the delegation will travel on to Lubumbashi in the south and Bukavu in the east. Lubumbashi is Congo's economic hub. The King will visit the Belgian school and the university, which also has a strong connection with our country as half of the professors obtained their doctorates in Belgium.
On the last day of the visit, the King will travel to the Panzi Hospital of Nobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege in Bukavu. Mukwege was awarded for his fight against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The hospital treats victims of sexual violence. They also receive psychosocial support and help with their reintegration into society.
Bukavu has been in a state of unrest in recent days. Hundreds of people took to the streets to demand that diplomatic ties with Rwanda be cut and the borders closed. They accuse the neighbouring country of supporting the M23 rebels, an old Tutsi group that re-emerged late last year. Although Rwanda denies any involvement, the ambassador has already been summoned to Kinshasa and RwandAir's flights have been suspended in Congo.
After a meeting between the Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and his US counterpart Antony Blinken at the end of last week, the latter called for diplomacy. Blinken pledged his support to the dialogue between the Congolese government and the rebel groups, which took place in Nairobi in April.
The Belgian royal couple during a state visit to Greece in May 2022 © BELGA PHOTO POOL OLIVIER MATTHYS