Newt Gingrich is in the news again, this time for picking up on Dinesh D’Souza’s comment in a Forbes article about President Obama having inherited his father’s “anti-colonial” Kenyan worldview.
Let’s set aside the question of when being “anti-colonial” became a bad thing, especially here in the United States – a former British colony.
This whole kerfuffle is interesting to me because I’m pretty sure that I’m one of the few people who have actually seen Gingrich’s dissertation. It is about Belgian education policy in the colonial era of the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can read the post I wrote about skimming it here.
For those of you who have better things to do, suffice it to say I’m not surprised by any of this.
Gingrich liked colonialism.
He especially liked the Belgian variety. Belgium limited the vast majority of Congolese to a sixth-grade education, taught children that God wanted them to obey the exploitative colonial authorities and was the reason the country had fewer than 20 university graduates and no indigenous doctors at independence.
These problems were one of the reasons the country immediately erupted into chaos, which made it possible for Joseph Mobutu to take over, allowing him to loot the public treasury for three decades. This caused a breakdown in public service provision, which kept Mobutu using public funds to manipulate patronage networks in his favor and which fell apart with the end of the Cold War when funds dried up.
These problems laid the groundwork for the chaos that would erupt after the Rwandan genocide. Let’s not forget, that was caused in part because of – you guessed it – Belgian colonial education policy that favored the Tutsis for educational opportunities, thus breeding resentment among the Hutu, which set off rounds of ethnic cleansing that led to the 1994 genocide.
The genocide spilled over into the Congo, which led to a series of wars, which were only partly settled in 2003 and that have, so far, caused more than 5 million deaths of perfectly innocent people.
Not all of this could have been known to Gingrich at the time he turned in his dissertation to Tulane’s Modern European History doctoral program, of course. But he knew about the limited opportunities the Belgians allowed the Congolese.
I find it difficult to believe that he couldn’t understand that falling victim to such policies might cause a smart young adult to be a little anti-colonial in mindset.
In fact, it’s pretty hard to believe that someone as well educated as Gingrich doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing by calling Obama “anti-colonial.”
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Laura Seay is an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta. This column was adapted from her blog, Texas in Africa. She did fieldwork from 2005-07 related to the Congo for her doctoral dissertation, “Authority at ‘Twilight:’ Civil Society, Social Services and the State in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Laura Seay is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.