Belgian King Philippe is scheduled to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo from June 7 to 13, after initial plans for the trip were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Belgian monarch will be accompanied by Queen Mathilde, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and other members of the Belgian government.
In his six-day visit to the former Belgian colony, King Philippe will visit Kinshasa, Lubumbashi (in the south of the country) and Bukavu (in South Kivu province, eastern DRC).
King Philippe had previously planned to visit the DRC in June 2020, but the trip was postponed first because of Covid-19, then most recently this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The visit of the Belgian sovereign, twelve years after that of King Albert II, is seen by the DRC and Belgium as a sign of the normalisation of relations between the two countries, after the European state froze cooperation at the end of Joseph Kabila’s tenure.
“This event will mark, once again, the excellent quality of bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Belgium and the DRC,” President Félix Tshisekedi’s office said.
While in DRC, King Philippe will speak at the seat of parliament and visit the national museum in Kinshasa.
Meanwhile, Belgium has also agreed to return to the Congo artefacts looted during the time of King Leopold II, when the country was under colonial rule. In February 2022, Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo handed over to his Congolese counterpart Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde a list of works of art to be returned to the DRC, which have been kept for more than 100 years in the Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren in Flemish Brabant, near Brussels.
For the royal couple, the Bukavu stopover is also a great symbol. It is the city where renowned gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, lives.
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are expected to support Dr Mukwege in his efforts to fight violence against women and his advocacy against impunity in war crimes in the eastern DRC.
A week after the King's DRC visit, Belgium is expected to return former prime minister Patrice Lumumba’s tooth to the slain hero’s family, as part of handing over his remains. This will be marked by several ceremonies in Kinshasa beginning June 20 and ending on June 30, the day of the commemoration of the country’s independence.