King Philippe and Queen Mathilde leave on Tuesday for a state visit to Congo. It has been since 2010 that a Belgian king moved to the former colony, and only the seventh royal visit in history.
The visit has already been postponed three times. King Philippe was due to travel to Kinshasa in the summer of 2020, for the festivities surrounding the 60th anniversary of Congolese independence, but the corona pandemic then threw a spanner in the works. A year later, there were plans for a second attempt, but even then, the state visit was canceled due to the corona pandemic. The trip was postponed a third time because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Albert II was the last to visit Congo in 2010. Even then, it was already 25 years ago that a Belgian king went on a state visit. Albert attended the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence, but did not speak publicly.
Under President Joseph Kabila, relations between the two countries were very sensitive at that time. The delegation was also kept small at the time. The only politician who traveled was then Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
This week, Filip and Mathilde will be joined by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir (Vooruit) and State Secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine (PS).
Relations between Belgium and Congo have been improving since 2019, after the election of Felix Tshisekedi as president. Since then, several federal ministers have traveled to the country.
Elections will again take place in Congo in 2023, so this period is considered to be the last chance for a state visit without affecting that process. Spread over three days in Kinshasa, the royal couple will have several meetings with Tshisekedi.
On Wednesday, both the king and the president will give a speech in the Congolese parliament building. What the king will tell there is kept secret, but the monarch would like to contribute to the new wind blowing through the bilateral relations.
Works of art
In Kinshasa, when visiting the National Museum, a mask that was brought to Belgium during the colonial period is returned. During his visit at the end of last year, Dermine already indicated that Belgium is prepared to investigate the return of all goods and works of art from the colonial period that are now in possession of federal institutions.
To do justice to the vastness and diversity of the country, after visiting the capital, the delegation will travel to two corners of the country: Lubumbashi in the south and Bukavu in the east.
The economic center of the Congo is located in Lubumbashi. The king will visit the Belgian school and the university, which also has a great connection with Belgium because half of the professors obtained their doctorate in Belgium.
On the last day of the visit, the king travels to the Panzi Hospital of Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege in Bukavu. Mukwege was awarded for his fight against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Victims of sexual violence are treated in the hospital. They also receive psychosocial guidance and help with their reintegration into society.
It has been restless in Bukavu in recent days. Hundreds of people took to the streets to demand that diplomatic ties with Rwanda be cut and the borders closed. They accuse the neighboring country of supporting the M23 rebels. It is about an old Tutsi group that, again, at the end of last year, stuck their nose at the window. Although Rwanda denies any involvement, the ambassador has already been summoned to Kinshasa, and Rwandan flights have been suspended in Congo.
After a meeting at the end of last week between Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and his American counterpart Antony Blinken, the latter called for diplomacy. Blinken pledged his support for the talks between the Congolese government and the rebel groups, which took place in Nairobi in April.