- In 2020, the DRC imported goods of over US$333 million from Belgium, with products such as blood, vaccines, refined petroleum and packaged medicaments topping the imports
- Including the DRC in the EAC provides Belgium with almost all the imports they source from Africa from one region, the East African region
- The atrocities committed by King Leopold II are dragging the relationship between these two countries
The war between Russia and Ukraine is shifting the focus of European countries to Africa as an alternative market for gas and food products. Among the relationships that have registered an upward trend is a partnership between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belgium.
The trade relationship between the two countries has been in existence for decades now, performing well economically. In 2020, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) imported goods of over US$333 million from Belgium, with products such as blood, vaccines, refined petroleum and packaged medicaments topping the imports. Over the last 20 years, imports from Belgium to the DRC have increased from US$96.6 million to US$333 million.
The DRC exported goods worth US$64.36 million to Belgium, as per the United Nations COMTRADE database. The main products exported included diamonds, cobalt, and cocoa beans. Over the last 20 years, DRC’s exports to Belgium have decreased from US$774 million to US$108 million.
Trade volume between the two countries is likely to increase with the inclusion of the DRC into the East African Community. The Congo is setting up their shipping line at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, a country that has been an excellent trading partner with Belgium.
Exports from Kenya to Belgium have increased at an annual rate of 4.91 per cent for the last 21 years. Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda also enjoy good bilateral trade relations with Belgium.
Including the DRC in the EAC provides Belgium with almost all the imports they source from Africa from one region, the East African region.
Furthermore, East Africa is the most peaceful region, consequently providing the best trading conditions in the continent. The trade relationship between Belgium and the DRC will likely improve because of the EU- Africa partnership that targets to better their trading statistics.
The European Union has been looking for potential natural gas suppliers from Africa to fill in the deficiency created by the sanctions on Russia’s gas importation to the region.
According to Worldometer, the DRC Congo holds over 30 billion cubic feet of methane and natural gas. With the right technology to exploit the natural gas, the Congo can increase bilateral trade with Belgium and all the EU members.
Belgium relied for about 30 per cent on Russia’s oil, an opportunity that is out for the Congo to grab.
However, the atrocities committed by King Leopold II are dragging the relationship between these two countries.
King Philippe visits the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This June, President Felix Tshisekedi will host King Phillippe of Belgium, his first visit to their former colony since he began his reign in 2013.
He will join the country to celebrate its 62 years of independence. Wholly, Belgium will join the DRC in celebrating their Independence Day by removing the statues of King Leopold II, who brutalized Congo. The demand for the removal of the statues is just the tip of the iceberg and part of a broad anti-racism struggle which the Congolese community and other African descendants have been highlighting for the past decades.
The trade relationship between these two countries has often been affected by the pain that the Belgians instilled in the Congolese people during their reign as colonizers. In 2020, King Philippe became the first monarch to express regret against the Belgian brutality and apologized to the DRC.
The Democratic Republic of Congo genocide
In a letter to President Tshisekedi, King Philippe expressed his deepest regrets for the acts of violence and cruelty and the suffering and humiliation inflicted on the Congolese people. King Leopold II is believed to have caused the death of 10 million Congolese people and used the country’s vast wealth of natural resources to enrich himself.
The King used forced labour to collect rubber in high demand at the beginning of the 20th century and killed any Congolese citizens who put up any resistance. He abducted wives and children and forced men to bring him rubber in exchange for their families. He propagated the idea of spreading Christianity in the ‘Congo free state’, which was a scapegoat for hiding his atrocities.
The Belgian education minister, Caroline Désir, wants to make courses of study on the history of the DRC Congo and colonialism compulsory to sensitize the country to the atrocities committed by King Leopold II.
However, the modification of school curricula can take up to two years. Some Belgians have also been engaging in the illegal trade of mineral resources, affecting the relationship between these two countries.
A Belgian engages in illegal trading in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the wealthiest country in mineral reserves. Still, the government and the local citizens fail to fully benefit from the resources due to illegal smuggling. Early this year, the United States imposed sanctions on Alan Goetz, a Belgian businessman, and a cartel linked to him over illegal gold dealings in the DRC.
In a statement, the United States Treasury Department said that the company Alan Goetz operates is responsible for the illegal smuggling of gold valued at hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The illegal smuggling of mineral resources in the country provides revenue for rebels in the country, threatening political, social and economic stability.
Despite past atrocities, relations between the DRC and Belgium are improving, as witnessed by the Congolese people living in Belgium and Belgians living in the Congo.
Congolese population in Belgium
The Congolese population living in Belgium totals about 30,000 to 40,000. After World War II, they settled in Belgium, with most migrants going to Europe as second-degree students. In Brussels, Belgium, there is a neighbourhood called Matonge, which the Congolese people dominate. The Belgian administration makes efforts to ensure that the Congolese are treated well to heal the wounds caused by King Leopold II.
Belgium population in the Congo
There are around 5,000 Belgians living in the Congo, with many hesitant to make their homes in the DRC because most Congolese nationalists have never made peace with the Democratic Republic of Congo genocide. Most of the Belgians are in the Congo to invest in the country’s vast majority of natural resources.
Among other security situations in the country is the rampant rise of the Democratic Republic of Congo child soldiers. Rebel groups in the country recruit children as young as eight years old and teach them how to handle guns and ammunition. One movie on Netflix, “Beasts of no Nation”, depicts how children are forced into war gangs to protest against the government.
French has been the official language of the DRC since its colonial era under Belgian rule. Additionally, the DRC has taken the Franc as its national currency. Some argue that Francophone countries are still under neo-colonialism as their currency value is directly pegged to the Franc.
The DRC’s entry into the EAC
The admission of the DRC to the East African Community appears to be a good escape route for the country as it is more likely to adopt the shilling as its official currency. The idea is still under discussion, awaiting implementation, even as the EAC bloc looks at the potential of forming the East African Federation—the best-situated trading bloc in Africa.
The DRC is one of the most linguistically diverse countries globally, with over 200 languages spoken in the country. Apart from French, several other languages are spoken in the DRC, such as Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba (the four national languages).
The country has, over the years, ranked high in countries with high insecurity and poor standards of living. The country has also been poised to have the wealthiest potential in energy resources, which it has not utilized. However, people fail to notice some beautiful facts about the DRC.
Facts about the Democratic Republic of Congo
- The DRC has over 250 ethnic groups with over 200 languages spoken throughout the country.
- The DRC’s Virunga National Park is home to the world’s rarest gorillas, lions, and elephants. The park generates massive revenue for the government.
- The DRC contains the most extensive gallery of natural resources globally. It is the most resource-rich country on the planet, with an abundance of gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin, all minerals used in electronics such as cell phones and laptops.
- The DRC hosts the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping mission globally, with over 21,000 soldiers from approximately 50 different countries.
These unique characteristics, among others, make the DRC a beautiful and among the most economically promising countries on the continent. Since joining the East African Community barely a month ago, the DRC has made progress by setting its shipping line at the Port of Mombasa.
This shipping line will help the country ease the exportation of their agricultural and mineral resources without having to experience the poor infrastructure and high levels of insecurities on the western side.