The crossroads of nationalist historiographies in sub-Saharan Africa and of the history of developmentalist attempts that characterise the European late colonial states, have left us with very incomplete images of important trajectories. In the seemingly more “liberal” large colonial empires—notably the French and British—sails were set by 1945 towards a policy of investment and economic change. Some of the scholarly debates question whether this investment was genuine or just a last resort to avoid (rapid) decolonisation; others put the emphasis on inadequate routines of development implemented in these territories, many of which have apparently been continued since decolonisation.
In this context, we encounter a clear lack of understanding about how decisions made by individual actors on the administrative level interacted with the larger panorama of social conditions in colonial territories, and of the consequences that these interactions had for the paths towards decolonisation. For a smaller empire such as the Belgian colony of Congo-Léopoldville, these processes are still more obscure; and for the colonies ruled by authoritarian metropoles, as in the cases of territories under Spanish and Portuguese rule, stagnation and absence of change are often taken for granted. In other words, these territories, which were under the rule of metropoles regarded as rather weak in economic terms, are treated as unrepresentative of the broader, European movement towards change in colonial policies. However, the conditions of change towards economic and social modernisation in this latter group of empires, even when inhibited by lack of funding and weak professionalisation of the administration, are frequently very telling for the broader range of challenges that the late colonial states faced.