Belgian Colonization of Congo

By Emma Lucas

When Congo became independent from Belgium in June 1960, there were only sixteen university graduates out of a population of thirteen million. Many argue that this lack of education is part of the reason why Congo still faces so many problems in their development and stability. According to Acemoglu, Robinson and Johnson colonial powers adopted strategies for colonization based on the areas they colonized. Some former colonies were controlled via existing power structures while other colonies, e.g. United States, attracted settlers. According to the scholars, this resulted in different means of getting economic benefits from the colonies. However, I think that the way of keeping the colonies under control also changed. The settlers expected that the colonies were similar to the country they left, which meant that to create stability in the colonies the colonial power had to prevent the settlers from thinking that independence would improve their living conditions.

However, Congo did not have these settlers. Rather, the colonial powers dependent on existing power structures. They tried to extract as much wealth as possible, and often used oppressive means to get that wealth. That means that to keep power, the colonial powers had to oppress the people. Therefore, the colonial powers had an incentive to actively prevent the people from gaining power and creating a population that could be ready for independence. This explains that for example in Congo, but also in many other former colonies, education and promotion of vocational training of African peoples were discouraged.

So, besides strengthening harmful institutions, colonial powers would have set up the former colonies to fail by creating circumstances that made independence difficult. However, for settlers-colonies, to prevent independence colonial powers would have created circumstances very similar to their own, which could explain the difference between the current development offormer colonies.