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Belgian Princess calls for her country to apologise for its colonial past as King Philippe announces trip to Congo

Princess Esmeralda

Princess Esmeralda of Belgium has once again called on her country to apologise for its colonial past in Congo. 

In an interview she granted Agence France Presse (AFP), and published on Thursday, 17 February, the Princess said that Belgium must apologise for the atrocities perpetrated during the years when Congo was under European control. 

Princess Esmeralda’s request comes as King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are scheduled to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo from 6 to 10 March at the invitation of President Félix Tshisekedi. The visit will be the first by King Philippe and the first time a Belgian royal sets foot on Congolese soil since 2010 when then-King Albert II travelled to the former colony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence.

The visit, and the subsequent remarks from Princess Esmeralda, also comes when the Belgian government is preparing to return many objects that were wrongfully acquired in Congo by the Belgians during colonial years. 

Media outlets quote the Princess as saying: “Apologies are important to restart a balanced relationship,” adding that “Belgium must apologise.”

She then specified: “I was not attacking my current family. We are not responsible for our ancestors,” adding, “We have a responsibility to talk about it.”

Princess Esmeralda was born on 30 September 1956, the last of six children born to King Leopold III of the Belgians. In 1998 she married pharmacologist Sir Salvador Moncada, with whom she shares two children, Alexandra Leopoldine and Leopoldo Daniel. 

The Princess is a journalist, having written for years under the pseudonym Esmeralda de Réthy, after her mother’s title of Princess of Réthy. 

She has engaged in the protection of women and indigenous people’s rights, as well as the fight against climate change. In 2019, she made headlines after being arrested at a climate protest in London, following her refusal to obey an evacuation order. 

Her first calls for Belgium’s apologies came in 2020, during the Black Lives Matter protests that also swept Belgium and were especially significant in the Congolese community and against the violent conquest of Congo operated by King Leopold II. 

Protesters were demanding the removal of any remembrance of King Leopold II, saying: “Belgium should be ashamed it continues to present Leopold as a ‘civilising’ hero through history courses, statues, effigies, stamps, avenues and streets in his honour.”

At the time, King Philippe wrote a letter to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, expressing regret for the violence that occurred during Belgium’s colonial past, during which it is believed that around ten million people died. 

But some expressed their disappointment at the letter “stopping short of an apology,” as noted, among others, by The Guardian. 

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