By James Crisp*
The United Nations has told Belgium to apologise for its colonial past and criticised its newly renovated Africa Museum for not doing enough to exorcise the demons of it exploitation of the Congo.
Filled with more than 180,000 looted items and 500 stuffed animals, the museum celebrated the Belgians, who turned the Congo into a slave state ruled by Leopold II, for more than a century. The king’s brutal regime, which inspired Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, killed millions and ruthlessly plundered the region of rubber.
After a week-long investigation, a UN working group said that racism suffered by those of African origin in Belgium could be traced back to the country’s failure to address its past. The panel noted the many remaining statues of Leopold and monuments to the colonial army that dot the streets and parks of Brussels.
“We urge the government to apologise for the atrocities committed during the colonisation,” said group president Michal Balcherzak.
Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, said he thought the findings, to be published in full in September, were “very strange”.
“We will have the opportunity to make our formal remarks. We certainly will,” he said and insisted Belgium stood against all forms of discrimination.
The AfricaMuseum reopened in December last year after a five year £67 million “decolonisation” renovation project. African artists were invited to display their work in an effort to modernise and detoxify the museum built by Leopold.
But the UN accused it of failing to provide critical analysis for some of its exhibits. It should remove all “offensive, racist” images that are still in display in the palatial 1910 building in the leafy suburb of Tervuren.
Guido Gryseels, the director of the AfricaMuseum, told the De Standaard newspaper that colonial era images were exhibited in context and said he was surprised by the panel’s findings.
Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation, said, “ If there is one place in Belgium today where people have a critical view of the past, then it is the renovated AfricaMuseum.”
On Tuesday, it emerged that a bust of Leopold had been stolen from Brussels’ Duden park and replaced with a bust of Nelson Mandela. It is the second time the sculpture has been stolen by campaigners.
Leopold’s rule lasted from 1885 to 1908 before, under huge international pressure, the Belgian government took the region out of royal hands, and renamed it the Belgian Congo.
The Belgian Congo, which includes the entirety of the present day Democratic Republic of Congo, gained independence in 1960.
*Source The Telegraph