Foreign Minister Salutes Belgium’s African Past — in Blackface

Foreign Minister Salutes Belgium's African Past -- in Blackface
Last week Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders participated in a local Brussels festival. He was in blackface. Ah, the subtitles of diplomacy ….

Les Noirauds (blacks) festival, known as Zwarte in Dutch has aided a childcare charity named Conservatoire Africain since 1876, but the children in question live in Brussels. 1876 is also when King Leopold II started maneuvering with other European powers for a piece of the African Continent. That’s why the Belgian paraders first blacked up: colonial fever.

King Leopold got a piece of Africa in 1885, not for Belgium but as his personal possession. He called it the Congo Free State (État Indépendant du Congo) and ruthlessly exploited its resources and people for his personal enrichment. His mercenaries forced inhabitants into the jungle to harvest wild rubber, and those who refused or missed quotas were killed or tortured. Millions died.

Leopold II used some of his vast personal wealth extracted from the Congo to endow public buildings back in Belgium, and was loved there. World opinion against his genocidal colonial practices mounted, though, and in 1908 he was forced to relinquish his African possession to the Belgian Parliament.

Which brings us back to Didier Reynders. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch asked Minister Reynders if he’s going to wear blackface to his next meeting with Africa’s leaders.


“Belgium minister sparks scorn by ‘blacking up,'” Peter Wilkinson, CNN

“Belgian Foreign Minister Appears in Blackface. Belgium’s Political Establishment Shrugs,” Joshua Keating, Slate

“King Leopold’s Ghost Haunt’s Belgium’s Black-Faced Foreign Minister,” Nadette De Visser, Daily Beast


Didier Reynders website

Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (film)

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild (1998), Amazon

“Map: European colonialism conquered every country in the world but these five,” Max Fisher, Vox


Short Link:

Image: King Leopold II of Belgium, Snake of the Congo, by Edward Linley Sambourne, in Punch 1906. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

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