Belgium Elects Nation's First Black Mayor, a Congolese Immigrant
But Belgium still has far to go in reckoning with its legacy in Africa, said Mr. Etambala. “Most people don’t realize anymore what happened, I know of no politician who cares, colonial history is barely taught in primary school or even in high school.”
About 120,000 people of Congolese descent live in Belgium, which has a population of about 11 million.
Colonial policies that restricted migration and impoverished Congo kept the figure low for decades, “but prevailing racist views and systematic suppression in Belgian society should not be underestimated either,” said Maarten Couttenier, who researches colonialism at the Royal Museum for Central Africa.
As a university student in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, Mr. Kompany was imprisoned for more than a year for supporting protests against the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, he said, while dozens of his fellow students were killed.
Mr. Kompany fled to Belgium in 1975, completed his studies in engineering, worked as a taxi driver, and became a Belgian citizen. One of his three children, Vincent Kompany, is an international soccer star, who has served as the captain of both Manchester City and the Belgian national team.
A handful of people with sub-Saharan roots have been elected to other offices in Belgium, including two women who won seats on city councils on Sunday, said Elena Matundu, 50, the president of the Group of Integrated and Active African Women.
“This shows that we are part of this community,” she said, “that we are unerasable, that we are Belgian.”