Power through the ballot box: The effect of education on DRC’s democracy

Understanding the role and quality of education in the desire for regime change

In a country where elections are the only material proof of democracy, who does the intellectual elite support? This research studies the relationship between education and the desire for change at the micro level in an autocracy, focusing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s last presidential elections.

The research team combines the authentic results of the 2018 elections with highly granular data on education quality and quantity to unveil the relationship between education and voting for change.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

The challenge

The study of the interplay between education, political participation and democracy is among the most hotly debated issues, not only in economics but in all social sciences. After decades of oppression, warfare, endemic corruption and looting by foreigners and Congolese, the people of Congo went to the ballot at the end of 2018 hoping, for the first time, to elect their representatives in free, fair and impartial elections. Despite the focus of the international community and observers, the elections were rigged, maintaining the dire status quo. Leaked electoral results from electronic booths and polls supervised by the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo revealed huge discrepancies from the “official” results, released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) with a delay after determining that electronic voting did not work.

The intervention

There is not only great ambiguity regarding the one-way impact of education on democracy and political participation; we also know little about the mechanisms involved. The project aims to measure the quantity of education through a complete census of all kindergarten, primary and secondary schools through the results of the Examen National d’Etat – an exam taken by students at the end of high school. The analysis is based on data for more than 500,000 students registered in more than 20,000 schools.

The potential impact

This research will investigate another legacy of Belgian colonisation by digitising and georeferencing a set of unique databases. The data will shed light on the role played by education in the development of democracy.