1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
PoliticsDemocratic Republic of Congo

Belgium's king arrives in DR Congo

June 7, 2022

The monarch's visit to the DRC comes two years after he apologized for atrocities committed during Belgium's brutal colonial era. The six-day trip has been billed as a chance for reconciliation between the two countries.

King Philippe (C-L) and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi (C-R) are seen upon his arrival at the N'djili International Airport in Kinshasa
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi (right) greets Philippe at Kinshasa's N'djili International AirportImage: Arsene Mpiana/AFP/Getty Images

Belgium's King Philippe arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Tuesday on his first visit to the former colony as monarch.

The six-day trip has been hailed as "historic" and an opportunity for the two countries to forge closer ties.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi greeted Philippe and his wife, Queen Mathilde, on a red carpet at the international airport in the capital, Kinshasa.

The royal couple was also accompanied by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and other members of cabinet.

The visit to the impoverished Central African country comes two years after Philippe offered a landmark apology for the "wounds of the past" and crimes committed under Belgium's colonial rule.

What is on the king's agenda?

According to the Congolese government, the Belgian delegation was to meet President Tshisekedi to discuss the colonial past as well as current political relations.

Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya told reporters ahead of the visit that Belgium and the DRC were starting a "new partnership."

"We are not forgetting the past, we are looking to the future," he said.

Congolese sociologist Georges Kasongo Kalumba believes it helps that both King Philippe and President Tshisekedi belong to a generation born after DR Congo won its independence from Belgium in 1960.

"They haven't experienced the turbulent problems that have marked the political history of both countries. So we are in a kind of new beginning with leaders who have little to do with the past," Kalumba told DW. 

De Croo told Belgian media the visit marked "a historic moment."

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, King Philippe - Filip of Belgium, DRC Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and DRC Congo First Lady Denise Nyakeru pictured at the official welcome at N¿Djili, Kinshasa International Airport
During his six days in the DRC, Philippe is expected to travel beyond Kinshasa to Lubumbashi and BukavuImage: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga Photo/AFP/Getty Images

Philippe is due to hold a ceremony with Tshisekedi at the Congolese Parliament in Kinshasa on Wednesday.

On Friday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech to university students in the southern city of Lubumbashi.

The Belgian sovereign will then travel to the country's east to visit the clinic of  gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who was joint-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against sexual violence. The 65-year-old is considered the world's leading expert in the treatment of gang rape injuries.

Helping rape survivors in the DRC

Brutal colonial past

Historians estimate that  millions of people were killed or died from disease in DR Congo during the rule of Belgium's King Leopold II and the subsequent Belgian colonization.

King Leopold II — the brother of Philippe's great great grandfather — brutally ruled what is now DRC as his personal property between 1885 and 1908. During this time, his colonial military unit forced the local population to collect rubber.

In 1908, his so-called Congo Free State became a colony known as the Belgian Congo. It remained part of the Belgian empire until gaining independence on June 30, 1960.

This week's visit is Philippe's first to the DRC since he became king in 2013. 

He had planned to visit to mark the country's 60th anniversary of independence in 2020 but the trip was canceled due to the COVID pandemic. 

Significance for Tshisekedi

Political analyst Onesphore Sematumba from the International Crisis Group called Phillipe's visit "an undeniable diplomatic success" for President Tshisekedi, who is working on building his legitimacy at the international level. 

Tshisekedi's victory in the 2018 elections, which observers say were marred by irregularities, came as a surprise and led to wide-spread riots.

Belgium's foreign minister at the time, Didier Reynders, was among those who cast doubt on the election result. 

DR Congo today is wracked by weak governance and endemic poverty. It's one of the world's most corrupt and poorest countries, ranking 175 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.

While Belgium is now acknowledging its historic debt to its former colony, the European country is now "far too small to dramatically shift Congo's trajectory in a positive direction," writes Africa expert and journalist Howard F. Frank in an analysis of Philippe's visit to DRC for Foreign Policy

"What [Belgium] can and should do is vigorously lead diplomatic efforts to galvanize Western and other international support for a reconstruction plan for the country," he writes.

Belgium's King Philippe (C) inspects the guard of honour upon his arrival at the N'djili International Airport in Kinshasa
Philippe is visiting DRC for the first time since he became kingImage: Arsene Mpiana/AFP/Getty Images

nm/kh/msh (AFP, dpa)

Wendy Bashi in Kinshasa contributed to this article. It was updated on June 8, 2022 to incorporate analysis from DRC.  

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo pictured during an interview with DW
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage