Belgium ready to examine restitution to the DRC of all colonial property

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Belgium is ready to examine, by mutual agreement with the Congolese authorities, the return of all the property and works of art resulting from the colonization of the former Belgian Congo in the possession of federal institutions, the secretary of the government said on Wednesday. Belgian State for Science Policy, Thomas Dermine, visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At the beginning of July, the federal government launched a vast study project on the provenance of goods – looted or not – resulting from the colonization of the former Belgian Congo. This framework was set, with a good unanimity of the seven parties forming the Vivaldi coalition, to prepare the restitution of these goods, which could concern thousands of objects in the coming years.

Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir, Secretary of State for Scientific Policy Thomas Dermine and Professor of Anthropology Placide Mumbembele during the visit of the new National Museum in Kinshasa, Congo. – Belga

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100% of the works concerned

This framework, which has yet to be translated into a bill and approved, perhaps before the end of the year, by the House, “is a precursor” to those existing in other countries with a colonial history, such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, assured Mr. Dermine.

It concerns “a priori 100% of the works” in the possession of federal institutions, – the main one of which is the AfricaMuseum in Tervueren but also the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, dependent on the Institute (IRSB) – explained the secretary. of State during a meeting in Kinshasa with some journalists.

“We thus recognize that the colonial regime (the independent State of the Congo was the personal property of King Leopold II from 1885 to 1905, before becoming a Belgian colony until June 30, 1960, the date of the country’s independence) was inequality ”, added Mr. Dermine after a visit to the reserves of the National Museum of the DRC (MNRDC) at Mont-Ngaliema in the company of the Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir.

Development Cooperation Minister Meryame Kitir and Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermine pictured during a visit to the new National Museum in Kinshasa, Congo.
Development Cooperation Minister Meryame Kitir and Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermine pictured during a visit to the new National Museum in Kinshasa, Congo. – Belga

A restitution without haste

The adoption of this law on restitution should then allow the opening of discussions with the Congolese authorities – the interlocutors remain to be defined – concerning the modalities.

A possible restitution, the scope and modalities of which must be the subject of an agreement with Kinshasa, will be carried out in a concerted manner and without haste, the Congolese authorities suggest.

According to Mr. Dermine, the choices will be made by a mixed Belgian-Congolese commission, which will in particular have to distinguish between material restitution (to the DRC) or legal and physical possession (which could remain in Belgium if the storage conditions do not exist). not allow immediate repatriation, as some Congolese intellectuals point out).

Most of these assets are in the AfricaMuseum in Tervueren, a federal institution. Some 128,000 objects are listed, 85% coming from the DRC, the vast majority of everyday objects, collected since the creation of the EIC. The museum estimates at 1% the part resulting from looting, at 58% the correctly appropriate part, the rest to be the subject of a study of provenance.

The director of the AfricaMuseum, Guido Gryseels, for his part, on Wednesday estimated at 2.5 million euros over four years the amount of these studies.

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