Odds and ends.
There needs to be a verb for noodling around on some particular topic online. Rambling from link to link, and such? "Googling" is just part of it.
Anyway. I knew that, during WWII, the Belgian Congo stayed loyal to the Allies. (This in contrast to the French African colonies, which split between Vichy and DeGaulle.) What I did not know was that in 1941 the Congo mobilized a force of several thousand men -- native troops, native "bearers", and a handful of white officers -- marched north into the Sudan, and then marched east to invade Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, of course, had been conquered by Mussolini a few years earlier -- poison gas and machine guns, and such -- and so was an Axis property, full of Italians. Still, it was a pretty damn bold move on the part of the Belgians: a 2,000+ kilometer march through jungle, savannah and mountains, with an assault against a numerically superior and well entrenched foe at the end.
I also found this astonishing two-volume set of facts and stgatistics about the Belgian Congo, published just after independence in 1960. I have the impression it was a piece of protracted self-justification on the part of the Belgians: see, all the roads we built! Hey, how about that positive balance of trade! Look, we almost defeated sleeping sickness!
And it actually is kind of impressive. Maybe the most impressive thing is not so much the positive statistics, but the fact that there are statistics at all. It would be literally impossible to produce a book like this today. Statistics on cassava production, fish processing, and the number of automobiles? The modern DRC can't even say how many people it has. There hasn't been a census in the Congo since 1984. Any population numbers that you see today are estimates, and fairly broad estimates at that.
Skimming through these volumes simply increases my cognitive dissonance about the Belgians: the dominant urge is still a desire to travel back in time and beat the hell out of some people, but there's a secondary countercurrent of grudging admiration. Georges Simenon may have relentlessly mocked and satirized the pettifogging civil servants of the Belgian Congo, but by God they were going to record just how many cases of malaria were reported, how many elementary school children were graduated, and how many tons of fish meal were produced.
And then there are weird documents like this one, where the Belgian governor c. 1956 -- just before the demand for independence exploded -- set forth to explain Belgium's policy in the Congo. It's... weird. In the last decade, the Belgians were becoming more and more liberal. Of course, they were starting from so far back that they were still a decade or two behind the more enlightened corners of the British and French empires. It was very much a case of too little, too late. And yet: given another decade or two, might they perhaps have started building the institutions that could have protected the newly independent Congo from itself? To put it another way, given the steady trend of liberalization and rationalization through the last 15 years of the Belgian Congo, wouldn't the Congo have benefited greatly from a few more years in the oven?
The strange thing is, I'm actually inclined to think "no". But it might take a while to spell out why, and it's Christmas Eve here.
So, Merry Christmas to all you constant readers, and perhaps we'll pick this up again in a bit.