A recent visit to the Belgian King by Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta has raised questions regarding the united front with which African leaders should be demanding reparations from former colonialists for crimes committed against countries on the continent. It is without doubt that, at the face of weak consented efforts to seek for reparations, the same people who committed these crimes will always be tempted to take advantage and swiftly deploy diversionary means masquerading in grand media apparels to offer at will, insulting offers in attempts to clean their bad history.
A good example is the recent German offer of a little over a billion euros to Namibia in recognition of the same atrocities committed largely on the Nama and Herero people of that country. This financial offer was premised on reconciliatory attempts by the German government. However, traditional rulers of Namibia who thought otherwise rejected the offer based on a unilateral change in the initial agreement. This draws the conversation back to the need for incorruptible political will and a united front to build a strong bargaining power with which Africa demands reparations, especially from the Belgian government on their role in Congo.
Historically, from 1885 to 1908, documentations of heinous crimes committed against the people of Congo on the orders of late King Leopold II of Belgium are overwhelming proof of the contemptuous manner in which people of color are held. It is reported that more than 10 million Congolese lost their lives during this period, including women and children. The amount of lives lost during the Congolese holocaust is incomparable to any other crime against humanity in modern history; however, the world hardly talks about it.
Regrettably, it is African leaders’ apparent lack of interest in pushing for reparations. Over the years, Africa politicians and business leaders have sought to establish ties with Belgium but rarely do reparation for atrocities committed against the people of Congo mentioned. Few months back, Pan-African investor, Tony Elumelu was heavily criticized by many Africans for accepting the King Leopold Award from the Belgian royal family.
The recent visit by Uhuru Kenyatta was described by Kenya’s ambassador to Belgium as one during which “the Kenyan Head of State will address matters related to Kenya-Belgium, and Kenya-EU relations as well as regional agenda in his capacity as a key leader of the East African Community.” The ambassador added further that “the President’s meeting with King Phillipe will help strengthen diplomatic ties between Nairobi and Brussels, while investment and trade matters will be dealt with at the business forum;” a conversation which has absolutely nothing to do with reparations.
Without ambiguity, the idea that Congolese people deserve reparations is an understatement; it is a request underpinned by a long history of repression and economic exploitation which is heightened by sporadic killings. Mr. Uhuru, from what was reported by his ambassador went a long way to show how uninterested the African leadership is in bringing to the fore the Congolese course. African leaders of recent times are busy vying for business relations with the very people who have exploited Africa, without fear of any accountability. It is their thinking that Belgium will deal with them justly in the form of bilateral trade agreement, where each partner will faithfully fulfill contractual obligation, agreed upon. How can this happen when exploitation in all forms persists, unchecked.
Belgium has built an empire out of Congo by dint of forced labor, where rubber, ivory and minerals were made available to the emissaries of Belgium at the behest of mutilated hands, lost lives, incapacitated human beings. Belgium therefore, ought to pay reparation to Congo.
Ultimately, African leaders have shown on many occasions that they do not subscribe to our shared value of Ubuntu “I am because you’re”. The days of Kwame Nkrumah, who would avail Ghana’s resources in the course of the African continent are over. We are also in such an epoch where Congo does not have Patrice Emery Lumumba, who would fight for the well-being of the entire Congolese people. The era we are in is reminiscent of those of Blaise Campore, and Gnassingbé Eyadéma, whose common denominator was siding with enemies to claim the lives of Thomas Isidore Sankara and Sylvanus Olympio, respectively, the true sons of Africa.
The African leadership is engrossed with forging relationships that do not have an African outlook. With the current trend, it is unlikely to see African leaders standing as a unified force, asking for reparation from Belgium on Congo’s behalf. As concerned Africans, would African leaders demand reparation from Belgium for crime against Congo?, is a question that would be posed on the African leadership as long as it is left unattended to.