Belgian paternalism as founded as formed on the belief that assuring Africans a relative degree of well-being would obviate any demands they might otherwise make for meaningful political participation. Enjoy this short article on Belgian Colonial Policy in Africa.
Until the 1950s, the Belgians systematically curbed any form of post-secondary education for Africans. “Paternalism” was based on the doctrine that Belgium alone knew what was good for Africans and was ready to offer it if Africans remained “quite.”
Experimenting in the Congo
Each colonial power used an African territory as testing ground for its policy which was later implemented other colonies. For the British, “Indirect Rule” was developed in India and tested in Nigeria. Senegal was France’s laboratory for “Direct Rule.” For the Belgians the Congo was the testing ground for the policy of “paternalism.” This policy completely denied education to Africans because, as John Gunther explains, “they will then demand a growing share of responsibility in the shaping of their own future.”
Unlike Portugal, Belgium knew independence was on its way. All she did was to delay it. In order to buy off African discontent, she offered wide economic opportunities, widespread social services and a comparatively high standard of living to Africans.. By withholding education from Africans it was easy to render them more malleable and more docile. Education could make Africans “less subject to the ruling glut of Belgian colonial policy in Africa, and harder to handle politically,” as Gunther says.
The Evil Character of Belgian Paternalism
The evil nature of Belgian paternalism is explained by its ability to manufacture genocide in Rwanda. And trigger a bloody and endless conflict in the Congo. This inherent evil in paternalism is also reflected in the chain of exploitation in the Congo from the days of King Leopold through the Belgian government to Mobutu. The story of exploitation and bloodshed continues with the flurry of mercenary activities in the Congo till this day.
The resource-rich Congo is today a case study in violence and an object for plunder. The call for this plunder was given in 1884 when European powers in Berlin declared Congo a “free state,” meaning it was free for all. Before 1906, King Leopold had acquired at least $20. As Rodney further observes, “in the years preceding independence, the net outflow of capital from the Congo reached massive proportions.” The time bomb of Belgian colonialism in the Congo exploded in 1960.
The Legacy of Belgian colonial Policy in Africa
Belgian colonialism left back nothing but chaos in Africa. In Rwanda, Belgium skillfully played the ethnic card to its advantage. It used the Tutsis against the Hutus and then the Hutus against the Tutsis. The hatred that was planted came to the surface in 1994 with the Rwandan genocide that claimed 800.000 lives. In Congo, Belgium supported the secession of Katanga and took the life of Lumumba to retain control of Congo’s wealth.
On top of this exploitation, there existed “not one negro lawyer in the Congo by 1955. There were fewer than 500 medical doctors for a population of 12 million people as Rodney points out. The Belgians came out of colonialism highly illiterate. “The bulk of Congolese did not even know what nationalism was … because they were not educated enough,” says John Gunther.
As memories of Rwanda fade into the depths of history no one can tell when peace will come to Congo. Especially, as neocolonialism still lurks in the shadows of the Congo’s wealth. The situation in Congo remains potentially explosive. It remains a big challenge for Africa and the world. The Congo represents what Tony Blair once described of Africa as “a scar on the conscience of the world.”