Congo’s Memory: The Colonial Era – on display in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren until October – brings together Belgian and Congolese historians to give a balanced view on its imperial past.
“The time had come to set the record straight. We have had time for passions to calm, or to change,” said Congolese historian Isidore Ndaywel e Ziem, a member of the committee which brought the show together.
The country now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was created in 1885 under Belgian King Leopold II, annexed by Belgium in 1908 and finally secured its independence in 1960.
Visitors are invited into a succession of themed rooms covering waves of new arrivals, the country’s economic transition and sometimes brutal colonial practices, illustrated by whips used to cut off hands on rubber plantations.
“In 1960 it was with regret that Belgians abandoned a colony seen as the country’s most beautiful work, while Congolese people wanted to be free,” said Ndaywel e Ziem.
“Half a century later, for a lot of Congolese people the colonial era seems like a golden age, while Belgian public opinion has gone in the other direction and today recognises the crimes of the past,” he added.