Vol. 3 No. 1 (2024): MUNDI

The Curse of a Colonial Institution, not Resources: Colonialism and Kleptocracy in the Congo

Published 2024-06-12


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) immense natural resource wealth and stunted economic growth and poverty cause many to deem it “resource cursed” – a theory used to describe states with abundant natural resources and negative development outcomes. This theory is said to materialize through several mechanisms, but its presentation is widely understood to be conditionally reliant on the strength of institutions, and further critiques point to an insufficient consideration of history. So, what else might explain the DRC’s development shortcomings? This paper contends that if the resource curse is conditional on institutions, then the institution itself is the curse, not the resources. Critiques of institutional conditionality and historical understatement are blended to argue that institutions traceable to the colonial era are the primary cause of poor development outcomes in the DRC. A qualitative historical analysis tracing the Congo’s institutional history reveals that the extractive institution was established in the colonial period and perpetuated by subsequent domestic political leaders and foreign influence in the form of neo-colonialism. These factors, not natural resource abundance, are found to be the root cause of the negative development outcomes experienced by the DRC. Understanding the crucial role of institutions in the DRC's development encourages greater attention to their role elsewhere and could help shape how scholars and policy-makers approach development globally.