The museum director told AFP the guide’s comments, which apparently included downplaying the widespread mutilation of local workers in Belgian-ruled Congo, were unacceptable and “totally against the spirit of what we stand for.”
The row comes just a year after the museum, once notorious for its uncritical celebration of Belgian colonial exploits in Central Africa, reopened following a major refurbishment that sought to bring it up to date.
Belgian rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was notoriously brutal and exploitative. Run as a private royal estate by former king Leopold II, the African colonies covered lands now included in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
During a tour with master’s students in history from the University of Antwerp, the guide – who has not been named – made a series of remarks giving a rosy view of colonialism, one of the group, Hanane Llouh, told AFP.
After complaining to the students that he struggled to get a job as a guide at the museum because he was white, he went on to criticize the renovation project, saying, “the blacks wanted to get rid of everything,” Llouh said.
He also cast doubt on the Belgian colonialists’ practice of cutting hands off Congolese villagers as punishment for missing quotas for rubber collection, Llouh said.
“He said about hands that were cut off, he said that’s very relative because we have just two pictures. But that’s not true… there’s a whole archive of pictures of people with no hands,” she said.
After he made a racist generalization about Africans shooting each other in relation to the 1961 assassination of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba – a killing in which Belgium itself, along with the CIA and British intelligence are implicated – the students’ professor cut the tour short.