Why is there hardly any Flemish linguistic heritage in the former Belgian colonies, at least at the institutional level?

EDIT (Evidence of prior research): Neither the Democratic Republic of the Congo nor Rwanda have Dutch as their official or national language, contrary to French.

  • 4
    I'm reluctant to close a question with an answer.
    – MCW
    Jun 18, 2020 at 16:04
  • 2
    @MarkC.Wallace I know what you mean. On the other hand, I've fielded so many "Why was my question closed when [another equally off-topic question] wasn't?" type questions that I also feel that if it's off-topic it should be closed, whether it has an answer or not (probably a variant of 'broken-window theory'). I'm always conflicted in these cases. Jun 18, 2020 at 20:08
  • I saw a documentary that has a good explanation. French was the official language. Anyone had to speak and understand it. Amongst themselves - mainly the Flemish officers, of course - Flemish was used to keep things secret from the general population. So when Congolese heard Flemish, they knew something bad was going to happen. They hated French, but even more Flemish.
    – Jos
    Jun 19, 2020 at 1:33
  • @sempaiscuba I would be willing to agree that the question is "too basic" in the sense that a simple reference to the answer could be found (albeit a relatively obscure one for the casual history afficionado). That said, I quite disagree that it's off-topic. If asking about the linguistic heritage of Belgian colonization in the Congo is off-topic, then what isn't?
    – Tfovid
    Jun 25, 2020 at 7:24
  • Besides, just because a question can fit as one-liner, doesn't make it "too basic". If anything, I'd say it makes it more elegant.
    – Tfovid
    Jun 25, 2020 at 7:26

1 Answer 1


This article, "A Brief History of Dutch in Africa", explains:

From the start, Stanley worked with officers and agents of a variety of nationalities, many of them Belgians. These Belgian nationals were of either Dutch-speaking or French-speaking origin. As at that time French was still the only language for all formal communication in Belgium, the Belgian officers and agents in the Congo quite naturally used French as the official language among them and for writing. [...] In sum, the arrival of Flemings in the Congo in the late 1870 and 1880s, marked the beginning of a structural presence of Dutch in Central Africa, albeit always under the hegemony of French as official language.

  • 1
    Alright, so the explanation lies "upstream", namely in the fact that French was the main language of Belgium.
    – Tfovid
    Jun 18, 2020 at 15:47
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    Also consider that some neighbors (including, right across the river from Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, who also had to share the Congo river) were french colonies - no nearby dutch speakers. And this is quite analogous, albeit in minor scale, as "why is there no large catalan, basque or galician linguistic heritage in Spanish America"
    – Luiz
    Jun 18, 2020 at 16:14
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    Until displaced by English around WWII, French was perhaps the primary language of international diplomacy and much culture, and (at least until the 1970s) was perhaps the most widely taught second language in English-speaking countries. So learning French would have utilitarian benefit, unlike Flemish or Dutch.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 18, 2020 at 16:30
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    At least in the beginning until 1908, the Congo Free State was not a Belgian colony but personal property of Leopold II who, like most Monarchs in Europe, primarily conversed in French.
    – R.K.
    Jun 19, 2020 at 10:03

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