Display of African wildlife at the Museum. Photo supplied

Brussels: Colonial museum dismisses guide accused of racism

An employee, who was fired the Royal Museum for Central Africa near Brussels, was accused by a student of having made racist remarks defending colonization during a school visit.

Published: December 25, 2019, 11:26 am

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    It did not take long for the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) in Belgium, to make the decision to part with one of its guides, accused by a student of having held “racist thoughts”. As French daily Le Figaro reported on Tuesday, December 24, an investigation had been opened within the museum concerning an employee, who had been guilty of a series of remarks giving an idyllic vision of Belgian colonialism in Central Africa.

    “He is no longer a guide in our museum. We dissociated ourselves from his statements, ” said Guido Gryseels, the director of the museum, in remarks reported by Le Figaro. It was during a visit with Masters of History students from the University of Antwerp that the guide shocked his audience.

    After complaining that he had to fight for this job because of his white skin, he criticized the renovation of the museum, saying that “blacks wanted to get rid of everything”, according to student Hanane Llouh, the student, who said said he was “angry and offended”. He also questioned the widespread practice among Belgian settlers to cut the hands of Congolese villagers who were insufficiently productive in the rubber harvest.

    The director of the museum, for his part, said that the guide, with whom he had spoken, had confirmed a “lack of judgment” on his part in his comments, but denied having made racist remarks. Guido Gryseels ensures that the museum will “re-evaluate” its control when selecting the guides employed.

    The guide, meanwhile, had been working there for about six months and had accompanied some 70 visits. But the museum management seemed eager to avoid a controversy.

    Possibly for good reason, since the incident comes a year after the reopening of the museum, once famous for its celebration of Belgian colonialism in central Africa at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

    The museum, colloquially known as the Africa Museum, is an ethnography and natural history museum situated in Tervuren, just outside the capital. It was built to showcase King Leopold II’s Congo Free State in the 1897 World Exhibition.

    In France, the issue of colonialism has been highlighted too, after President Macron denounced French colonialism during his visit to Africa. But the president of the LR group in the Senate, Bruno Retailleau criticized the penitential vision of the history of France put forward by the Head of State.

    In 2017 already, Emmanuel Macron, then presidential candidate declared on an Algerian channel that colonization constituted a “crime against humanity”.

    In 2019, Emmanuel Macron repeated his claim. Colonialism was “a fault of the Republic” he declared in Abidjan alongside the Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara.

    According to Retailleau, Macron’s vision of the history of France is in reality a notion linked to his progressivism. For the latter, the present is morally superior to the past, and the task of good men consists in extracting evil from European history which, “for the progressives, was only a succession of crimes”.

    Retailleau noted: “Our collective destiny can only be fulfilled in a reconciled vision of our history. By blackening the past of France, Emmanuel Macron obscures the future of the French.”

    He added that “in cultivating hatred of oneself, one only harvests hatred of others, especially since we know that this type of irresponsible discourse finds an echo in Africa, in particular in Mali where some seek to pass the fight of France against jihadism as the translation of a new French ‘colonialism'”.

    In France, the colonial question remains to this day an extremely taboo subject. So much so, that at school, many teachers must deploy treasures of precautions so as not to offend the “sensitivity” of African or Arab students.

    “The process of criminalization of our history risks drawing us into an endless trial in which the list of cities to appear will inevitably continue to grow. Should the Jules Ferry schools be renamed in view of what he said in favor of colonization?” Retailleau said.

    “The great challenge of the coming years will be that of French unity. Emmanuel Macron has just demonstrated once again that he is not the one who will deliver on that.”

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