The Belgian-Congolese diaspora and Belgian development cooperation: a checkered relationship?


On the threshold of the 60th anniversary of their accession to independence, Belgian-Congolese descendants are increasingly settling in Belgium. However, they remain concerned about the evolution of African development and cooperation policies.

Acceptance and criticism of Public Development Assistance (ODA)

Belgium has not had a colony for almost 6 decades. The presence, today, of Afro-descendants in Belgium seems not to have been sufficiently appreciated. The late arrival of sub-Saharan African migrants, previously made up of students, is now becoming a social reality which deserves a more in-depth analysis on the part of Belgian citizens. The Belgian-Congolese currently represent a little more than 2% of the population living in Belgium. In 2018, some 84,932 people from the DR. Congo lived in Belgium.

The 60 years of postcolonial history have also seen a succession of alternating criticisms and praises of Belgian cooperation from the African diaspora. Development aid granted to African countries and the DR. Congo in particular has suffered a lot of criticism.

A part of the Congolese diaspora remains convinced of the relevance of development aid and pleads for its increase – as mentioned for example by a Belgian-Congolese citizen who has lived in Belgium for almost fifteen years – the Public Development Assistance makes sense if it results in the real development of the populations who need it most.

Some Afro-descendants assimilate Public Assistance to a certain notion of paternalism between the caregiver and the recipient, which would limit their effective emancipation. Some even believe that “theODA would be the armed arm of cooperation that Westerners would use against developing countries by prioritizing their strategic interests instead. ". The teacher Emmanuel Nashi, goes even further by asserting that “aid is the cause of underdevelopment”. He questions current policies and wonders why a large part of the countries of the South are struggling with cycles of corruption when they have nevertheless received approximately 300 billion dollars of development aid in this half century? He also believes that aid recipients are seeing their conditions worsen considerably. The aid would have impoverished the most vulnerable. It would therefore be essential, according to him, to break this myth of Public Development Assistance being a panacea for all African ills. Aid can therefore only contribute to resolving the problems it intends to face when combined with local efforts. This can only be done by overcoming the idea, sometimes well anchored in the collective psyche, that nothing can be done in Africa without foreign assistance.

Development cooperation practices and their objectives have evolved over the years. The literature today differentiates between several categorizations to classify aid: public or private; technical support or cooperation; contributions in kind or financial contributions; bilateral aid or multilateral aid [1]Aymar NYENYEZI, B, social change in development studies: the contribution of postcolonial studies, in Development revisited, PUL, 2018, p.51-67. … Dambissa Moyo [2]Economist with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, former employee at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs. distinguishes three main ones: humanitarian or emergency aid (1°), charitable aid (2°) and systemic aid (3°) [3]Dambisa Moyo, the fatal aid, JC Lattès, 2009, p.34-35.. The latter is equivalent to payments made directly from government to government (bilateral aid) or to transfers through institutions such as the World Bank (multilateral aid). According to Mende Tibor, known to be critical of development cooperation, there even exists “ a consistent relationship between the abundance of foreign aid and the degree of corruption in recipient countries » [4]Mende, Tibor, aid to recolonization, Lesson of a failure, Paris, Threshold, 1975, p.135..

In order to understand these views on Public Development Assistance, it is therefore necessary to review its recent historical evolution.

Historical journey of Public Development Assistance (ODA)

U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced on June 5, 1947 the creation of a financial aid plan that would later be called " Marshall plan ". It represented 13 billion dollars (the equivalent of some 150 billion euros today) destined for Europe, in a context of ideological struggle against the Soviet Union. During the inauguration speech, Harry S. Truman details his reading of the development and announces: “ economic inequalities between peoples can seriously compromise Peace (…) the richest States must contribute, including in their own interest, to the economic “development” of the peoples supposedly or claiming to be the most deprived » The idea of “aid” finds here its foundation and its justification which have subsequently evolved with history. Other examples could be highlighted, such as the “ Map of Colombo » which emerged in the British colonies in 1950.

During 1960, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a motion calling on “rich” countries to allocate 1 TP3T of their national income to development aid. We find this request at the First United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964.

On the side of the Catholic Church, it was in 1967 that the the positions the clearest on development aid. The day after Vatican II Ecumenical Council, the Catholic Church also wanted to convince people of the urgency of solidarity action by reaffirming the place of development in the advent of Peace.

From now on, the current policy known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose fight against poverty has exceeded the UNCTAD approach of 1964. As highlighted by common file of Justice and Peace and Mutual Aid & Fraternity of 2007, poverty is now understood as a universal reality: “ it exists even within developed countries while increasing in developing countries »[5]Servet, Jean Michel, the illusions of the millennium goals, in Lafaye de Micheaux, Elsa; Ould-Ahmed, Pépita (ed.) Institutions and development: the institutional fabric and… Continue reading .

Evolution and direction of Belgian development aid

Certain donor States committed as early as 1970 that 0.7% of their Gross National Income would be allocated to development aid. This commitment was repeated numerous times by the international community, including also by Belgium.

In his recent report on Belgian development aid, the CNCD 11.11.11 nevertheless demonstrates that the quantity of Belgian ODA recorded a decrease of 6% between 2016 and 2017, going from 2.08 to 1.96 billion EUR. In 2017, aid will therefore have recorded a cumulative drop of 30% since 2010, the year when it peaked at 0.64% of Gross National Income (GNI). Today, it only represents 0.45% of gross national income compared to 0.49% in 2016.

The reduction in the quantity of Belgian aid in 2017 is the result of the reduction in the bilateral aid budget, as well as the reduction in reception costs for asylum seekers. This latter amount, however, remains sufficiently high and means that Belgium continues to represent the first destination for its own development aid.

It seems from analyzes of Belgian ODA that it was more oriented towards short-term migration objectives. It was immediately focused on countries and projects that would have a closer impact on reducing migratory flows. Until 10% from the APD has already been used to welcome refugees within Belgian borders. This would pose an ethical problem, and would also be counterproductive because, according to the CNCD, several studies demonstrate that the development of a country almost always initially increases emigration flows. The possibilities of being able to move increase at the same time as the standard of living but when this exceeds the level of average income per capita (approximately 10,000 US dollars), this correlation would be reversed.

Belgium's development cooperation with the DR. Congo, meanwhile, experienced disruptions during the last general elections in December 2018 (although initially scheduled for 2016). But as soon as it has recovered, the concerns expressed about good governance, the exercise of human rights and the fight against corruption persist. Belgium still seems today to want to increase its aid while conditioning it on proof of significant progress in good governance. This constraint is well justified and should be maintained so that basic public services become effectively accessible to local populations.

It should also be noted that ODA is not the only means of stimulating growth and pushing forward economic recovery initiatives in the countries of the South. Belgian citizens of Congolese origin also actively participate in development policy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also act as providers of funds, either through direct aid for loved ones who remain in the country, or through the creation of start-ups, small businesses, etc. They have therefore become protagonists of development, influencers and even vectors of new global and humanist cultures and values (on issues such as gender, ecology, public freedoms, etc.).

The place of the Belgian-Congolese Diaspora

The first flows of Congolese towards Belgium began after decolonization. Almost all were post-baccalaureate students. Their number then gradually increased until today. In 2008, there were only some 16,132 Congolese nationals in Belgium alongside 25,000 others who became Belgians according to “ the study of Congolese migration and its impact on the Congolese presence in Belgium ". In 2018, nearly 85,000 Belgian-Congolese and Congolese lived in Belgium.

The first Congolese migrations took place between 1946 and 1974, they were almost entirely students because the arrival of tourists and traders only occurred later. In fact, we will only be able to talk about economic migration for the Congolese after the 1980s. From 2000 to 2002, more than 8000 Congolese obtained Belgian nationality.

Congolese migration, previously carried out for reasons of higher studies (from the 60s to the 80s) resulted in returning to family at the end of studies. From the 1990s, this logic seems to have changed considerably in long-term migration which ages and becomes more feminine. If we compare it to other nationality groups present in Belgium, we also see that Congolese migration is particularly made up of intellectuals. The study cited above sees this as a logical consequence of the student character of Congolese migration since independence. On the other hand, the unemployment rate of this population seems high, which calls for a relaxation of the acceptance and equivalence measures of diplomas obtained in the Democratic Republic of Congo - in order to avoid discrimination in the labor market. Diplomas obtained in RD. Congo have not yet systematically had the same value in Belgium. All the foreign diplomas do not necessarily lead to an equivalence, that is to say, sometimes only open access to some studies. But when they have a salary, Belgian-Congolese support their families in their country. Money transfers from Afro-descendants to their countries of origin continue to increase throughout the world.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in 2016, more than 60 billion dollars transited to the African continent, reports the newspaper “Le monde”
An average Congolese living in Belgium sends on average €2,400 to the DR. Congo every year. Fund transfers are used primarily to meet everyday financing needs. Two thirds are used to purchase consumer goods, often food, and to pay school and health fees. But if this resource responds to real everyday problems, it does not really irrigate the formal circuits of production and wealth creation. Farmers, SME owners or artisans hardly benefit from it.
These direct aids becoming more and more considerable, interest economists. The amount of remittances from emigrant workers in Belgium to non-European countries amounted to approximately 394 million euros in 2010.
Migrants living in Belgium who, as a whole, send the most funds to their loved ones back home are, in order of importance, originating from Morocco, Turkey and in third position, those from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Engagement of Belgian-Congolese citizens

The Belgian-Congolese, like other populations, still remain marked by their historical past with Belgium. Today they are settling permanently while maintaining close ties with their country of origin. They are increasingly forming philanthropic associations, political pressure groups thus becoming true actors of civil society. Some of them were called “ Fighters » because engaging in a political and active crusade in Europe against the productions in public concerts of Congolese musicians accused of collaborating with the government in place and/or directly by threatening the authorities in office during their European visits.

On the other hand, everyone seems to agree on the importance of making Congolese civil society actors more autonomous, efficient and independent by supporting their initiatives. These remain somewhat credible limits to the dictatorial desires of those in power. They impose themselves as real counter-powers necessary for the construction of a better society with respect for human rights and good governance.

Is it not also important, while retaining the essential participation of local partners, to take into account the expertise and opinions of the diaspora? Shouldn't it become more involved and play a considerable role in development cooperation policies, through Belgian civil society?

Is it not desirable to consider the creation of a diaspora platform, officially recognized and which would legitimately have the representativeness to influence government policies?

Would this not consolidate the role of the Congolese diaspora who would thus have more space to speak because they are formally associated in the analysis of needs and the construction of development aid for their country of origin?

We also believe it is desirable that NGOs from the North and South, while pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), take into account the challenges of partner countries. They should also bring together stakeholders around collectively shared and ambitious projects without losing sight of the significant challenges facing Central Africa in terms of education, health and security.

Belgium should also carry out transparent and inclusive reflections on its foreign policy and development cooperation in Central Africa, and more particularly in the States which reflect a great need and whose support for their emergence is a certain opportunity for the well-being of be global like the DR. Congo.

Contrasting analysis and political conviction: development for Africa is possible, but not just any way, and certainly not according to the patterns that are familiar to us ". Michel Rocard

Patrick Balemba.



1 Aymar NYENYEZI, B, social change in development studies: the contribution of postcolonial studies, in Development revisited, PUL, 2018, p.51-67.
2 Economist with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, former employee at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs.
3 Dambisa Moyo, the fatal aid, JC Lattès, 2009, p.34-35.
4 Mende, Tibor, aid to recolonization, Lesson of a failure, Paris, Threshold, 1975, p.135.
5 Servetus, Jean Michel, the illusions of the objectives of millennium

, in Lafaye de Micheaux, Elsa; Ould-Ahmed, Pépita (ed.) Institutions and development: the institutional and political making of the trajectories of development

, Rennes, Presses Universitaires, 2007, p. 63-88.


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