Belgian wrongs require more than a simple apology

The “métis” children, the product of relationships between settlers and local women, were torn away from their mothers and taken to Belgium

The Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel apologised on behalf of the state for the kidnapping of mixed-race children at the end of the colonial period in Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda.

The “métis” children, the product of relationships between settlers and local women, were torn away from their mothers and taken to Belgium, where they were fostered by Catholic orders, among other institutions, between 1959 and 1962.

Around 20,000 children, born in the 1940s and 50s, were affected by the scandal.

They did not automatically receive Belgian nationality and often remained stateless. Many of the fathers also refused to acknowledge the paternity of their children.

The Belgian Prime Minister said ”Throughout Belgian colonial Africa, a system of targeted segregation of métis and their families was maintained by the Belgian state and acts were committed that violated the fundamental rights of people,”

“This is why, in the name of the federal government, I recognize the targeted segregation of which métis people were victims” under Belgian colonial rule in Africa, and “the ensuing policy of forced kidnapping” after independence, he added.

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This is the first time that Belgium will apologize for what historians have said was the immense harm the country inflicted on the central African nations which it colonized for eight decades. In February, a UN working group advised in a preliminary report that Belgium apologizes for its colonial past.

The effect of those 80 years of colonial rule by the Belgians has grave consequences and its effect is still felt in the region and beyond.

No one captures the effects of these horrors better than Martinique born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon in his book ”The Wretched of the Earth” he provides a psychiatric and psychological analysis of the dehumanizing effects of colonization on the individual and nations.

Beyond the nice soundbites and half-hearted apology, Belgium needs to do more than a mere apology and pay reparations.

There is already a precedent for paying reparations to such states, for example, Germany pays an annual amount of money to Israel to recognize wrongs committed against Jews during the Holocaust and also to recognize the theft of Jewish property at that time.

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Japan also paid reparations to Korea after WWII as the Koreans were ‘deprived of their nation and identity’

Britain has paid compensation to the New Zealand Maoris for the damage done during colonial times and seizure of their land. There is little reason why other nations should not be paid for the grievances caused to them by the dominating countries.

I will support the notion that colonial powers should pay for free universal education and help with massive infrastructural projects; this would be an entirely appropriate and desirable measure.

Reparations would represent an important demonstration of the closing of colonial scars and a meaningful act of apology for the wrongs committed by Belgium during the colonial era, in order to move from the damaging legacy of that era, it is, therefore, necessary for former colonial powers to make some tangible show that they have closed the colonial chapter in their history they are seeking a new, more cooperative relationship with developing countries which were former colonies, it is also important to demonstrate that they recognize the needs of former colonies rather than simply the economic opportunities that are offered by them which or often times exploitative.

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The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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