Modern economic growth theory gives a central role to ‘institutions’ in understanding the ability of an economy to break development constraints. This article briefly reviews a growing economic literature that focuses on African economic history in order to identify the linkages between institutional development and economic growth. Because present-day African institutions are often direct descendants of the colonial experience, colonial economic and political institutions have been the main focus of this literature. This article instead proposes to analyse closely the role that the colonial education had in the process of decolonisation and in African postcolonial history. Because of the importance of education in the process of economic development, an education system aimed mainly at co-opting an elite in the ways of the coloniser might be a significant obstacle in generating innovation and creativity necessary for the process of economic development.