A number of African icons and revolutionaries were murdered for their ideas, fighting for economic independence, and the most painful one is undoubtedly the death of Patrice Lumumba. “After they kill us, then they apologise to us”; this should be the words on the tombstone of many great African leaders, more so Lumumba. On January 17, 1961 Lumumba was assassinated, an effort of collaboration between the Belgian and American government. Ludo De Witte described Lumumba’s assassination, as the most important assassination of the 20th century; and he was right. 57 years later, Belgium inaugurated a square in Brussels named after Lumumba.
In 2001, after their dastardly act, the Belgian parliament apologised for the assassination of Lumumba. The report from the parliamentary inquiry absolved the Belgian government “or any of its members of giving the order to physically eliminate Lumumba.” It also stated that there was no evidence on the Belgian authorities of premeditating to assassinate Lumumba or to have him assassinated despite the fact that Lumumba was shot in the presence of Belgian police and government officials. The report said “The commission concludes that certain members of the Belgian government and other Belgian figures have a moral responsibility in the circumstances which led to the death of Lumumba.” At this point, how does one trust the Belgian authorities not to have suppressed evidence? What makes them think they would be believed when all evidence lies with them?
The Belgian government’s apology for the Lumumba’s assassination was followed by the renaming of a square in Brussels, after Lumumba. The former Square du Bastion became Square Patrice Lumumba. The effective way Belgium refuses to take full responsibility for the murder of Lumumba, under the guise of “moral responsibility” is reminiscent of France’s action in aiding the Rwandan genocide.
For a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo which experienced dehumanization from Belgium far before 1961, the apology by the Belgian government is highly inadequate and restrictively definitive of the dark history of Belgium in Congo. The apology doesn’t extend to the genocide of close to 10 million Congolese by King Leopold II. Congo was a Belgian colony since 1885, with the support of the US.
Apologies (whose sincerity is dubious) by former colonisers have become a tool for rewriting history. The important issues such as repatriation are not given consideration nor discussed. The mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close said, “Today, by inaugurating this square, we forget nothing. Today, in the heart of the Belgian capital, capital of 500 million Europeans, by inaugurating this Square Patrice Lumumba, we begin to write our common history.”
Can Congo and Belgium ever have a common history? The current state of Congo bears no similarity to the current state of Belgium. The only common history these two countries share are that of the exploiter and the exploited. Former colonial powers that seek to come to terms with their colonial legacy have to address the issue of repatriation. All other political activities are mere mockery and publicity.