Belgium Renames Square After Patrice Lumumba In an Attempt to Address Its Colonial Past
But is the act alone enough to atone for Belgium's history of violence against Lumumba and the people of the Congo?
On Saturday, the Belgian government named a square after the late Congolese revolutionary Patrice Lumumba, who it helped overthrow in a bloody coup in 1961, just months after Lumumba was named the first prime minister of a newly liberated Congo. The leader would have been 93 today.
As reported in the New York Times, an area formerly known as Square du Bastion, located near the neighborhood of Matonge—home to one of the country's largest Congolese populations—was renamed Square Patrice Lumumba to mark the Congo's 58th independence day on June 30.
Close to 1,000 people were in attendance for the ceremony, including members of Lumumba's family.
The move is the European nation's latest attempt at reckoning with it's harrowing colonial past, which remains an open wound in the country. The Congo was the center of Belgium's colonial empire, as it was it's largest and most profitable colony. Widespread social, political and economic exploitation and mass killing took place under the grave rule of Belgium's King Leopold II, who maintained direct control of the central African nation until 1908, when he handed the colony over to the Belgian state.
The Congo finally gained its independence in 1960, with the widely embraced Lumumba as it's promising new leader, though he was in power for only two and a half months before he was overthrown and eventually executed in a Belgian-backed military coup d'état organized by Mobutu Sese Seko, the infamous military dictator who carried out his strikingly vicious rule over the country until 1997.
The mayor of Brussels told the New York Times that, for him, the renaming of the square is not a ploy to conceal or understate the country's legacy of colonialism in the Congo, but rather an attempt at forging a new relationship.
"By inaugurating this square, we're not repairing the past, we're not closing a chapter of history," he said. "Today, by inaugurating this square, we forget nothing."
"Today, in the heart of the Belgian capital, capital of 500 million Europeans, by inaugurating this Square Patrice Lumumba, we begin to write our common history," he added.
While some see the renaming of the square as a significant step, others are more interested in seeing Belgium make a more tangible effort towards providing reparations to the Congo. For many, the act alone is not enough to atone for Belgium's violent past against the people of the Congo.