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Chapter 1 explains why colonial lobbyists founded the ICI in 1893 and why over 200 colonial experts from thirteen countries joined the ICI during a period of tense imperial rivalry. Their internationalist efforts were in the context of severe criticism of colonialism in the 1890s due to losing money for colonizing countries. After non-governmental colonial interest groups initiatied the ICI, governments and colonial administrations soon started funding it. They thus showed their esteem for its transnational agenda, which promised a quick and cheap economic development of overseas possessions. While in the early period of the ICI’s existence, emulation of other colonial powers still aimed at nationalist competition, colonial experts learned quickly how to capitalize on superior colonial methods developed through transnational exchange. Unveiling this transnational cooperation, this chapter shows how the ICI marginalized the nationalist branches of the colonial movements in Europe and even took diplomatic action to prevent colonial powers from going to war, which would pose a threat to their colonial project. Ultimately, most colonial experts turned to colonial internationalism to save the colonial project that earned them a living. By 1914, most colonizing countries brought their policies in line with the best practice propagated by the ICI.
Chapter 2 shows how transnational cooperation in Europe led to the ICI’s invention of transcolonial and emulative development in the 1890s. The ICI’s transcolonial development differed from the state-led investment programs of the 1930s but resembled the functional governance famous among the UN development agencies in the 1960s. For utilitarian, racist, and ethical reasons, tropical hygienists, free-trade capitalists, Social Christians, and colonial lawyers in the ICI assumed that only the intrinsic motivation of Africans and Asians themselves could make colonial development a success. In the 1890s, the ICI’s showcase project was the Matadí-Léopoldville railway line in the Congo Free State, which successfully combined international investment and emulative development. The ICI facilitated the transcolonial recruitment of 10,000 indigenous workers for the construction by establishing rules for their employment. Although many workers died on the construction site, ICI members propagated a “soft” development that allegedly combined economic with ethical standards. Christian ICI members promoted this “ethical” development policy. Rarely, however, the ICI’s “soft” development could live up to the expectations it raised. Instead, ICI members designed colonial law and manipulated customary law to use both as a legal basis for exploitation under the guise of “soft development.”
Chapter 4 challenges the legend that ICI members initiated a global reform of colonial agronomy by combining transfers of improved cash crops with the encouragement of small-scale indigenous agriculture. ICI members claimed to replace the “South American” model of neo-slavery plantations with the “East Indies’” model of scientifically improved small-scale farming. Around 1900, the research institute for tropical agriculture at Buitenzorg in Dutch Java represented the “East Indies’” model. Colonial administrations around the world imported improved plants and planting techniques from Buitenzorg to “develop” their colonies. What is more, ICI members transferred the Buitenzorg model to other colonies. Yet, while they promoted the individual freedom of indigenous farmers as a tool of encouragement, they used coercive measures to make them participate in the “liberal” Buitenzorg schemes. The transfer of the Buitenzorg model ultimately failed because it neglected local plants and autochthonous traditions. While the ICI portrayed the ecological engineering at Buitenzorg and the subsequent technology transfers as rational and scientific operations, this chapter reveals the failure of its allegedly progressive schemes of transcolonial and technocratic governmentality.
Chapter 6 reveals that the ICI joined forces with the League of Nations‘ Permanent Mandate Commission (PMC) in 1919 to shift the debate about decolonization from sovereignty to representivity. That focus on representivity enabled the ICI to claim that no group really represented the allegedly fragmented colonized population. On these grounds, ICI members who had joined the League of Nations also delegitimized the complaints that Africans and Asian had sent to the League’s PMC. The ICI members dismissed those “abusive petitions” to the League as forgeries by a riotous and unrepresentative minority. The PMC and the ICI strategically kept the debate about representation going, and it never ended. In the interwar period, this debate served to dismiss nationalist voices as unrepresentative and to defend forced labor against the ILO’s initiative to ban it from the colonial world in the 1930s. While styling itself as the representative of colonial authenticity, the ICI had to appease the emancipatory movements. To do so, members of the ICI designed representative councils in the colonies, such as the Volksraad in Indonesia and invited some of their protégés to represent their colonies at international organizations. Restricted representation for moderate elites delegitimized allegedly alienated Westernized anti-colonialists.
It is therefore the conclusion and the message of this book that colonialism is not reformable, as the ICI pretended it was, but remained pretty much the same between 1890 and 1950. The ICI is the smoking gun that proves the immobility of colonialism. To overcome colonialism and the global inequality caused by it, it needed more than a reform. As Aimé Césaire put it: “Real decolonization is revolutionary or inexistent.”
3 The ICI/INCIDI did everything possible to avoid such revolutionary decolonization.
When the League of Nations lost ground in the 1930s, the ICI joined forces with fascist colonial movements to build up a fascist and corporatist “Eurafrica.” Chapter 7 shows how ICI members co-organized the international Volta Congress on Africa, held in Rome in 1938. The predominantly fascist Volta Congress wanted to replace the League of Nations as the torchbearer of colonial internationalism. To do so, colonial internationalists synthesized liberal and fascist colonial ideas into a revived Roman Empire, which they called Eurafrica. The eclectic character of this fascist Eurafrica came to the fore, when they incorporated Malinowski’s progressive anthropology and Islamic “tribal” and warrior traditions alike to govern the fascist Eurafrican empire. In a typically fascist manner, they did not want democratic representation in the colony and favored a corporatist representation through the different branches of the economy. This attempt to establish a corporatist “Eurafrican” empire coincided with ICI members from France reviving Islamic corporatism in Africa to use as a governmental tool.
Chapter 3 shows that the ICI ousted indigenous experts and administrators by sending allegedly well-prepared and well-resourced Europeans to the colonies. Using comparison to determine a best practice of colonial administration, ICI members reformed the training schools for European administrators. However, misinterpretations often characterized their comparisons. Stereotype and archetype-comparisons gave rise to the idea that the Dutch Indies was the most professional and rational empire, while prototype-comparisons disproved this idea. According to the Dutch model, administrators should be specialists in native culture, resistant to the tropical climate, and rule independently of the “unprofessional” bureaucracy in the mother country. In reality, ICI members evoked an idealized Dutch stereotype to impose their interests of increasing salaries, health insurance benefits, and old-age pensions for their careers. While ICI members also co-opted indigenous expert-administrators, they excluded them from these benefits. Around 1914, the number of European employees had doubled in many colonies and they ousted indigenous experts. Non-Europeans hitherto complained to lack “the prospect of advancing through eagerness and seniority.” Indeed, the ICI favored internationalization of colonial staff over indigenization and thus belied its own principles of indirect rule.
To manipulate Islamic law and use it for the purpose of “development,” ICI members declared it a customary law, as Chapter 5 unveils. The most famous amalgam of Islamic law and customary law was the adat law collected by ICI members in the Dutch Indies. Inspired by the adat law collection, ICI members created new legal codes for Muslim Africa, making the law more compliant to European necessities. Legal codes strategically combined elements from the four legal schools of Islam, customary law, and European law. In Africa, codifications of Muslim law served as an instrument to manipulate property law. One purpose was to expropriate habous land, traditionally inalienable land of Islamic endowments, which was often fertile and highly-prized. Hence, the misuse of Islamic law became a central tool for the ICI’s transcolonial governmentality. The codification projects show how ICI experts used their international networks to find the best strategy for reworking Islamic law in favor of colonialism. Colonial administrations, ICI experts recommened, should not fear Pan-Islamic movements, but should instead capitalize on cooperation with Muslims both inside and outside their territory. The expropriation of habous became so widespread that the Paris Peace Conference debated it in 1919.
Chapter 9 argues that the ICI endorsed decolonization in 1945, which did not equal independence. In 1949, it was renamed the Institut International des Civilisations Différentes (INCIDI). Under its “decolonized” name, the INCIDI perpetuated the ICI’s transnational and transcolonial governmentality in the form of modern functional governance. In the 1950s and 1960s, it cooperated closely with UN development agencies, ECOSOC, UNESCO, and American foundations such as the Phelps-Stokes Foundation. These new international development agencies adopted the ICI/INCIDI’s fifty years old schemes of sustained development, cultural relativism, international functional governance, cooperative mutual aid schemes, and corporatist pseudo-representation. What is more, former fascists who continued to be in the ICI/INCIDI, or joined it to rehabilitate themselves, worked together with advocates of a European Economic Community to pursue the project of an economic Eurafrica. This chapter unveils how the ICI/INCIDI’s commitment to a more participatroy Eurafrica, to civilizational diversity, and even to anti-racism served the purpose of making the overseas territories economically and socially dependent. While the INCIDI always wanted to “emancipate the colonies loyally,” it increasingly appropriated anti-colonial internationalism and hypocritically styled itself as a “second Bandung” in the 1960s.
In Chapter 8, we see how ICI members promoted the idea of a colonial welfare state at a low cost, based on mutuality and self-help. While craft guilds provided for a welfare system in urban regions, agricultural cooperatives assumed this task in more rural colonies. In the 1930s, a colonial cooperative movement emerged that stretched from Senegal to Madagascar and from India to Italy. Cooperatives were mutual loan, production, and marketing societies that collectively provided help to members in need. These cooperatives became the central element of the ICI’s development scheme. Their grassroots character was a governmental alternative to the huge investment programs of the 1930s to develop the colonies. However, the chapter also shows how colonial administrations used cooperatives to perpetuate enforced labor, wage dumping, collective punishment, additional taxation, and expropriation of land. Nevertheless, development agencies and international organizations continued to regard cooperatives as a crucial tool for educating Africans about collective work in the 1950s and 1960s. The ICI’s development schemes inspired the work of the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, UNESCO, and the Economic Commission for Africa of the UN.
In 1905, Mohandas Gandhi paid homage to Joseph Chailley, the founding father of the International Colonial Institute. Gandhi’s appreciation for Chailley exposed the complex interconnectedness of the colonial world around 1900. The Indian Opinion, a journal Gandhi published in South Africa, bestowed honor upon the Frenchman Chailley, who had recently spent several months in the Dutch Indies and was about to coauthor a book with British colonial administrators. To give the imperial interconnectedness an institution, Chailley had established the International Colonial Institute (ICI) in Brussels, as early as 1893. By 1905, this institute had grown to become the most important think tank for colonial rule, continuing with 136 (white) members. As it styled itself as reformist, this institute raised hopes among colonial subjects around the world. Gandhi’s Indian Opinion saw in Chailley’s writings on India “an unbiased testimony of a stranger,” and an adequate description of British colonial mismanagement: “He finds himself in a vast agricultural country, where there is great poverty and where commerce and trade are entirely local and therefore without real importance. He notices an absence of industrial activity, he discovers some people, perhaps owning fortunes, but – there is no capital.”1 Fighting against the underdevelopment of colonies was the declared aim of the ICI. Its members claimed to develop colonies through cooperation among international experts who would get the most out of the colonized population and the colonial economy. Gandhi was not alone in falling for this delusion, which actually served to legitimize and perpetuate colonial domination.2
In 1893, a group of colonial officials from thirteen countries abandoned their imperial rivalry and established the International Colonial Institute (ICI), which became the world's most important colonial think tank of the twentieth century. Through the lens of the ICI, Florian Wagner argues that this international cooperation reshaped colonialism as a transimperial and governmental policy. The book demonstrates that the ICI's strategy of using indigenous institutions and customary laws to encourage colonial development served to maintain colonial rule even beyond the official end of empires. By selectively choosing loyalists among the colonized to participate in the ICI, it increased their autonomy while equally delegitimizing more radical claims for independence. The book presents a detailed study of the ICI's creation, the transcolonial activities of its prominent members, its interactions with the League of Nations and fascist governments, and its role in laying the groundwork for the structural and discursive dependence of the Global South after 1945.