The Belgians built hospitals after all!

(31-01-2022) Was the Belgian Congo a model medical colony? Simon De Nys-Ketels investigated this in his doctorate.

“The Belgian built hospitals after all' is probably one of the most widespread arguments in the current public debate on Belgium's colonial history, and is particularly used by voices trying to counter the growing criticism of Belgium's colonial past.

"In my PhD, I questioned the classic view that the Belgian Congo was a model medical colony through the lens of the colonial hospital infrastructure," Simon says. 

"Through in-depth archival research, and by combining a range of architectural, urban planning, anthropological, and geographical insights, I uncovered the genealogy of the myths and realities behind this persistent reputation."

The PhD goes beyond the conventional simplistic description of the history of colonial hospital infrastructure, and tells a more finely-tuned story that includes African voices, the complex urban planning of colonial health care, tensions, failures and successes of the colonial administrative apparatus, and the complexity of the construction practice of colonial hospital infrastructure.

"Thanks to my research, we have been able to create a more realistic picture of the colonial hospital infrastructure in Belgian Congo," Simon concludes.

Read a more detailed summary or the entire PhD


PhD Title: Myths and Realities of the Belgian Medical Model Colony: A Genealogy


Contact: Simon De Nys-Ketels, Luce Beeckmans, Johan Lagae, Koenraad Stroeken

Simon De Nys-Ketels

Simon De Nys-Ketels graduated from UGent in 2012 with a master's thesis on the origin and development of the Kenya-neighbourhood in Lubumbashi, DR Congo, based on both in-depth archival research and extensive fieldwork. He continued his studies, obtaining a master in economic sciences, majoring in globalization at Ghent University in 2014.

Before starting his PhD, he worked one year as a research fellow at the University of Antwerp, exploring the relationship between social economy, architecture and urban planning, which led to publications in journals such as Local Economy. He has also informally participated in a research project on slum rehabilitation in Nagpur, India (2014), on which he published a collaborative paper in the journal Housing Studies.

In his current PhD-research he focuses on the architecture and urban planning of colonial and post-colonial hospital infrastructure in the DRC. He has published in journals such as Space and Culture, ABE Journal, Planning Perspectives, Urban History, while also being involved in future edited volumes.


Editor: Jeroen Ongenae - Final editing: Ilse Vercruysse - Illustrator: Roger Van Hecke