Although having had different pre-colonial institutions, and vastly different colonial experiences, both Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo have undergone severe periods on instability over the past century. Although both are slowly recovering, it seems that their colonial legacies continue to haunt them.
Before European expansion, what is now the DRC was essentially the Kingdom of Kongo. The state was highly centralized, and conducted diplomatic relations around Africa, and with European States, with Kongo representatives even acting as intermediaries in the slave trade. (BBC) Thus, although unproductive in that its agents acted as slave trade intermediaries, the pre-colonial structures of the Kingdom of Kongo can be understood to have influenced the post-colonial structures of the DRC. Eritrea on the other hand, looks vastly different in its post-colonial situation, than it did pre-colonization. Specifically, because of forced integration into the Ethiopian state, primarily because of British and later U.S. interests, the political and state structures in place today are unable to be reconciled with the structures existing pre-colonization.
The colonial experiences of the two nations are where they really differ however. While Eritrea has a complex history of colonialism, including rule by Italy, Great Britain, and incorporation into Ethiopia, the DRC’s history was relatively simple, although exceedingly brutal. As European states divided the continent, King Leopold II of Belgium seized the area for himself, establishing the Congo Free State, which he essentially used as a personal cash cow. Immediately, Leopold II moved into purely extractive colonialism, harvesting primarily rubber. Amidst outcries against claims of violence and torture throughout the Congo Free State, the Belgian government took control in 1908, but failed to implement stable infrastructure, political and otherwise in the region.
Eritrea’s colonial history differed in that the colonialism practiced, at least initially by Italy was not purely extractive, but settler in nature. Italy took interest in promoting industry and infrastructure, and educational/societal structures in Eritrea. Although the British destroyed or did away with most of these structures, it is the legacy of the institutions that is important. Whereas Eritrea had structures which allowed for comprehensive education, the Belgian Congo did not.
Belgian interest in what is now the DRC was based only on its natural resources, and very few Belgians actually lived there. Administration was poor, and plans for granting the Belgian Congo independence were neither thorough nor comprehensive. This is why we see differences in the political structures of Eritrea and the DRC today. Although neither can be considered extremely, it seems that Eritrea is slightly more so, even though it is perhaps more authoritarian. This is perhaps due to the fact that primary power struggles in the post-colonial period have been between Eritrea and Ethiopia, whereas in the DRC, there has been significant infighting.
Finally, it is important to note that both nations share a legacy of post-colonial meddling by former colonial powers. The United States and Great Britain have interest in Eritrea, due to military concerns in the region, and economic arrangements with Ethipoia. On the other hand, the West, particularly the United States has interest in the DRC due to its natural resources, and even went so far as to allegedly be complicit in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the DRC’s first democratically elected prime minister, in order to install a more West-friendly leader.
I Didn’t Do It For You – Michela Wrong
“Democratic Republic of Congo Profile – Timeline” – BBC
CIA World Factbook