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A reoccurring pattern throughout Congolese history has been an unwillingness or inability by successor governments to address the past.

Every attempt by the sovereign power to record abuses has failed or been subverted:

  • 1897 – King Leopold II created a ‘Commission for the Protection of the Natives’ to inform the Governor-General about alleged violations: it reported nothing;
  • 1904/5 – King Leopold II set up a Commission that confirmed accusations contained in Roger Casement’s report, but nothing was done to remedy the situation for victims;
  • 1908 – The Kingdom of Belgium inherited a scarred colony, yet made no serious efforts to establish a credible account of King Leopold’s reign;
  • 1960 – In the rush for independence, the new Lumumba government did little to document and learn from the past by acknowledging abuses, establishing individual responsibility, reforming abusive systems and institutions, or initiating programs to commemorate the oppressed;
  • 1991 – The National Sovereign Conference sought to review Congolese history, but no findings were ever publicised;
  • 2002 – The power-sharing deal included a truth and reconciliation commission created as one of the institutions to support democratic change. It never completed its work.

In the DRC today, no serious efforts have been made to describe and confront the past: archives are neither accessible nor maintained, and the history curriculum perpetuates the uncritical value of colonization. In Belgium, Leopold II is still considered a hero and is nicknamed the ‘empire-building king’ (le roi batisseur). The Royal Museum of Central Africa in Brussels launched an exhibit, ‘Memory of Congo: The Colonial Era’ in 2005 whose catalogue Adam Hochschild described as “rife with evasions and denials”. Not until 2001 after a parliamentary commission of inquiry did the Prime Minister of Belgium accept his nation’s “moral responsibility” for his nation’s role in the assassination of Lumumba.

In failing to address the past, each successive regime perpetuates Leopold’s system of resource exploitation premised on violence. It seems impossible to even imagine how to build a society that empowers and humanizes its long-suffering people. Somehow, a country must deal with its past in order to create a just and democratic future. Transitioning from an era of abuses has little chance of success if it is not enshrined into truth seeking, accountability measures, reparations of past abuses, reform of abusive institutions and the establishment of memory and a memorial. If the DRC fails to confront its past, it risks a new predatory regime in the mould of Leopold, the Belgian colonial government and Mobutu.

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