Nigerian billionaire Tony O. Elumelu has been conferred with Belgium’s oldest and highest national award: “The honorary distinction of Officer in the Order of Leopold” for his entrepreneurial drive across Africa and commitment to poverty eradication.
The Belgian ambassador to Nigeria, Daniel Bertrand, presented the award to the business mogul on Sunday, November 15, 2020, at the Belgian House in Abuja, with public and private sector leaders witnessing the ceremony.
In a statement, the Tony Elumelu Foundation said the billionaire “has been responsible for initiatives creating millions of jobs and employment for young Africans across the continent, through his philanthropy, The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF).”
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The statement continued: “The Foundation’s flagship intervention, the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, is a 10-year, US$100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 young African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries.
“Mr Elumelu believes that youth entrepreneurship has the potential to tackle global challenges such as forced migration, poverty, and hunger.”
But the African businessman has been widely criticized on social media for accepting the award owing to the fact that it is named after Belgium’s King Leopold II. The King of the Belgians, Leopold II, who ruled from 1865 to 1909, has been described as worse than Adolf Hitler for his genocide against the people of the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) who he considered as his personal property including their lands and minerals.
An undetermined number of Congolese, ranging in the millions, were killed in the hands of Leopold’s private colonial militia of 90,000 men called Force Publique, which he used to run the region that is the size of Western Europe and 76 times larger than Belgium.
During his reign of terror in Congo, some Congolese natives were captured and kept as human zoos.
A Twitter user has, therefore, accused Elumelu of siding with the “oppressors” while another user tweeted: “The Honour awarded is named after a Man who murdered 15 MILLION #AFRICANS, raped, amputated & enslaved many [many] others… He named the heart of #Africa Leopoldville – after Himself, should NOT be honored to received such a Blood Tainted & Murderous Award.”
Togolese activist Farida Bemba Nabourema said, “Congratulations on joining the honourable league of slave servants who see nothing wrong with receiving an award that bears a genocidal family name. The millions of Africans butchered by the Belgian monarchy are very proud of you.”
“This is one of the reasons why we need to start teaching decolonized African history in Nigeria. How in the world would an African agree to queue behind a genocidist like King Leopold? Wow!,” an account said.
Another also said: “I’m disappointed in you for the first time. You’ve always been a mentor to young Africans, but you receiving an honor named after the racist devil, Leopold that was responsible for the death of over 10 million Africans in Congo, just showed you’re on their side.”