Making Amends

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Belgian King Philippe made a historic visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, a trip many say is a chance to build new ties between the two countries in the wake of atrocities committed by Belgium during its rule of the country, Africanews reported Wednesday.

It is the king’s first trip to the African country since he ascended the throne in 2013 and the first official trip from a Belgian monarch in more than a decade.

The visit comes as Belgium prepares to return a tooth that belonged to Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, a hero of the anti-colonial struggle. Lumumba was killed by Congolese separatists and Belgian mercenaries in 1961 and his body was dissolved in acid.

The tooth – the only existing remains – was taken as a trophy by one of his killers, a Belgian police officer.

Meanwhile, Philippe is also discussing the return of tens of thousands of artworks and artifacts looted during the colonial era. On Wednesday, he returned a ceremonial mask, called Kakungu, that was previously exhibited at Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa, the BBC noted.

He said that the mask’s return “marks the symbolic beginning of the reinforcement of the cultural collaboration between Belgium and Congo.”

Philippe’s trip comes nearly two years after the monarch expressed his “deepest regrets” for colonial crimes committed by his predecessors in a letter to President Felix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of the DRC’s independence.

Between 1885 and 1908, millions of Congolese suffered under the brutal rule of Belgian King Leopold II, who owned the Congo Free State. More than 10 million Africans are believed to have died from disease, colonial abuse and dangerous working conditions on plantations during that period.

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