Many people have weighed in on Newt Gingrich's bizarre charge, echoing a Forbes article by Dinesh D'Souza, that President Barack Obama can best be understood by his "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview. But only Laura Seay, an academic and Christian Science Monitor writer who specializes in central Africa, has this insight directly into Gingrich's brain and what led him to come up with the accusation. That's right: Seay, God bless her, happens to have read Gingrich's 1971 dissertation for his Tulane University Ph.D. in modern European history. She explains how the 39-year-old and presumably very long dissertation explains Gingrich's comment.
Gingrich's dissertation was on Belgian education policy in Congo, which was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960. Seay wrote on her personal blog when she first read the paper, "My adviser discovered the cite. We thought it was a joke." She "sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich's dissertation" to see if she "found something interesting." She concluded, "The whole thing is kind of a glorified white man's burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970's. Gingrich wrote this as the Black Consciousness and Black Power movements were approaching their pinnacles. It was most decidedly not the time to be arguing that white European masters did a swell job ruling black Africans." Here are her five bullet points on the dissertation (she has much more for each if you'd like to click through):
- "He didn't actually go to the Congo."
- "He liked paternalism. A lot."
- "He saw Belgian rule as beneficent."
- "He viewed the colonial administration of the Belgian government as technocratic."
- "He recognized some of the absurdity of it all."
Writing in the Christian Science Monitor how this explains Gingrich's "anti-colonial" jab at Obama, Seay says, "suffice it to say that I'm not surprised by any of this." Quite simply, "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.
Seay sighs that looking over all of the damage that colonialism in Africa did "might cause a smart young adult to be a little anti-colonial in mindset." But not Newt!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.