Newt Gingrich dissertation on Congo sheds light on his jab that Obama is 'anticolonial'

Newt Gingrich has joined conservative columnist Dinesh D'Souza in criticizing President Obama as having adopted his Kenyan father's 'anticolonialist' ideas. When did being 'anticolonial' become a bad thing in the US?

By , Guest blogger

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    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke to local business leaders on Sept. 9, in Pella, Iowa.
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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 and using it to get himself some attention.

Setting aside the question of when being "anti-colonial" became a bad thing (especially here in the US of - ahem - former British colonies), this whole kerfuffle is interesting to me because I'm pretty sure that I'm one of the few people out there who have actually seen Gingrich's dissertation, which is about Belgian education policy in colonial-era Congo. You can read the post I wrote about skimming it here.

For those of you who have better things to do on a Thursday morning, suffice it to say that I'm not surprised by any of this.

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Gingrich liked colonialism. Especially the Belgian variety, which 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. Which was one of the reasons the country immediately erupted into chaos, which made it possible for Joseph Mobutu to take over, which allowed him to loot the public treasury for three decades, which caused a breakdown in public service provision, which kept Mobutu using public funds to manipulate patronage networks in his favor, which fell apart with the end of the Cold War when funds dried up, which laid the groundwork for the chaos that would erupt after the Rwandan genocide (which, let's not forget, 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 a chain of rounds of ethnic cleansing that led to the 1994 genocide), which 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. And 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, who blogs at Texas in Africa.

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