Where is Bandung 1955 now?

Or, reflections on ‘Everyone has their Indian’

The first things I want to comment on about the last reading, Amitav Ghosh’s essay, is not my own. A few things that A said were particularly salient.

One was that Ghosh’s trip to Egypt took place in the context of cultural and international exchanges between Asia and African, in the spirit of solidarity of the time between these two continents.  The second was about human behaviour – the mix of respect for Ghosh’s culture on the part of the Egyptians, and yet a certain casualness when, for instance, they asked him if would switch his religious allegiance to the camel now that he was in Egypt (as opposed to when he was in India and a Hinda, and thus would presumably worship the cow).

The third was the observation that it was unusual for an Indian PhD. student to go to Egypt or Africa to do field research – especially when it was still fashionable or ‘normal’ to go to the seat of the former colonial empire to study instead. And that’s where Bandung 1955 again comes in.

ban01It was the inaugural meeting of the Bandung Conference, which in later years led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM. Initially a show of solidarity between the newly-independent nation-states of Africa and Asia – those in the 1950s – it has nevertheless been pulled in many directions, with some eventually allying themselves with either the Soviet bloc or the Western ‘democracies’ (many of which were still colonial powers). Although it was initially a noble attempt to forge a path between communism and capitalism, some of these countries combined elements of both, with very few becoming more liberal or advanced democracies.

So it is that the NAM’s relevance and legacy is continually being questioned, with progress framed in terms of economic (if not political development), and Africa faring worse than Asia on this score. This was an observation that underscored the 10th anniversary meeting of the NAM in 2005, written up in this article – ‘Bandung Revisited’.

It highlighted the statements made by various leaders, prominent in their own right if not in the NAM itself. I noted wryly that most of their statuses had changed. There was Japan’s Koizumi (no longer prime minister), Zimbabwe’s Mugabe (now in a power-sharing agreement with the country’s ex-opposition leader), Gyanendra of Nepal (deposed and no longer ‘king’). Then there was Kofi Annan (no longer UN Secretary-General).

One of the more unsavoury characters mentioned, or rather not mentioned, was the president of Sudan – although his country was. Can we really believe it when the Sudanese government ‘denied that it had instigated violence in its war-torn Darfur region’?

There is also the tendency to paint the nation-states of the NAM as having some sort of global solidarity, but with the plethora of regional organisations, arrangements and military treaty alliances  (ASEAN, ASEAN + 3, APEC, ARF, Five-Power Defence Arrangments, etc.)  that intersect and overlap, or the differences between Northeast, South and Southeast Asia, or the more affluent and developed states (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Singapore) in contrast to the rest, or the self-interest of Asian and African states in the context of great power competition (US, Russia, China etc.) still very much dominating international politics – I’m afraid that to depict the idea of the NAM as a cohesive ‘Global South’ may be a fantasy at best.

Bandung 1955’s legacy is yet to be fully revealed, much less celebrated.

Further reading

NAM Summit 2006: No More Crossroads

Bandung Revisited: The Legacy Of The 1955 Asian-Af Rican Conference For International Order

Bandung Revisited: The Legacy Of The 1955 Asian-Af Rican Conference For International Order
by See Seng Tan & Amitav Acharya (Eds.)

Posted by rodsjournal

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