ABOUT

 

History

The first association of African elders to see the light of day was the Royal African Circle founded on 7 December 1889 and presided over by General Albert Thys, the illustrious creator of the Bas-Congo railway linking Matadi to Leopoldville. The association had two objectives: to maintain between its members a center of patriotism and to develop a center of union, exchange of ideas, documentation, and pleasure. It regularly met at 5 Place Royale, at the Globe Tavern. At the time of its fiftieth-anniversary celebration in 1939, the Royal African Circle had 651 members.

On 1 June 1912, the Royal Belgian Colonial Union was formed in Brussels, which was to federate the circles of veterans of the Independent State of the Congo already created in different parts of the country, as well as the associations that were to follow.

The Royal Belgian Colonial Union was founded with the generous support, first of all of H.M. King Albert I, who personally granted the new organization a large subsidy, then by that of powerful commercial companies and finally by official participation of the Government of the time. The Minister of State Auguste Beernaert, who had been one of the most faithful supporters of King Leopold II, had included in the 1912 budget an extraordinary credit in favor of the new association, which became the owner of the building located at 34 rue de Stassart. Among the founders, apart from Auguste Beernaert, were Jules Renkin, Minister of the Colonies, the Minister of Justice of Landsheere, the deputy Louis Franck who became Minister of the Colonies from 1918 to 1924 and the deputy Frans Van Cauwelaert. The senior committee of the Royal Colonial Union was chaired first by Auguste Beernaert and, after the latter's death, by Gérard Cooreman, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Association had several aims: firstly, propaganda in favor of colonial action, then the organisation of conferences, the creation of an information office, the constitution of an African library, the establishment of courses of colonial preparation for all those who were oriented towards colonial careers and for whom no teaching was organised.

As the Federation of Colonial Circles, it concentrated the collective action of the groups and provided them with premises for their activities. On December 18, 1912, the Royal African Circle left the Place Royale to set up its headquarters in rue de Stassart.

While eleven circles had contributed in 1912 to the foundation of the Royal Colonial Union, the latter gathered 52 circles during the celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1937. It had organized 2,782 conferences, created a library of more than 7,000 volumes, many of which constituted the unique vestiges of disappeared collections or out of print editions, its courses of colonial preparation had been attended by 4,264 students, 88% of whom were surveyors.

After the overseas territories gained independence in the 1960s, the circles opened up to cooperators and the association changed its name to "Union Royale Belge pour les pays d'Outre-Mer": in short Urome.

In 2019, the new management of the association, under the impetus of its President Renier Nijskens and its new Managing Director Baudouin Peeters, organised the first Summer University of the association to rethink its future and ensure its perenniality. Thus, after a democratic and participatory process, the Association was renamed the Royal Belgian African Union - Konijnklijke Belgisch Afrikaanse Unie (abbreviated to URBA-KBAU).

This updating of the statutes with a new name is justified by the evolution of the relations between Belgium, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and a dimension deliberately adding the future, taking into account the role, sensitivities, and the growing place of the diasporas in these relations. URBA is now open to associations of Congolese, Rwandans, and Burundians who would like to support its mission to strengthen cooperation and friendship between these countries in the respect of their common history and the hope of a mutually satisfying future.