The Bandung Conference (1955) was the starting point of the Non-Aligned Movement. The bipolar conflict kept the world on tenterhooks due to two superpowers with imperialist ambitions – the United States and the Soviet Union- favored by the decline of the old European powers. But some worked to build a space outside the superpowers, a space between two worlds.
The “Post”- colonial context
The anti-colonial movements faced a scenario in which the specter of confrontation between Cold War sides almost always conditioned the defense of their national objectives. Decolonization was the stage on which the superpowers deployed their entire symbolic and military arsenal to expand their spheres of influence within an increasingly numerous international society.
Faced with the imperialism of one kind or another, some independency leaders continued the struggle and worked to build a space outside foreign interests. Their spirit was embodied in 1955 in the Bandung Decalogue, the outcome of the Conference of the same name held in Indonesia, the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
As a result of the struggle against colonialism, certain personalities transcended the leadership they acquired in their territories and became world referents of the Third World. First Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and, later, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) in India, Ahmed Sukarno (1901-1970) in Indonesia or Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) as prime minister of China became the first wave of leaders of alter-globalization, who European and African references would later join.
It was in 1949 that various states – from India and Indonesia to Egypt, Ethiopia, and even Australia – met for the first time at the New Delhi Conference and unanimously condemned colonialism while calling for the self-determination of peoples and the construction of a world order that would consider them as equals.
The Conference and the Bandung Declaration
The Bandung Conference was a meeting of Asian and African states, which had just gained independence. The great independence leaders organized it: Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, and Sukarno, head of state of Indonesia, and the leaders of Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon. These last five Asian countries invited twenty-five others to participate in the Conference held between April 18 and April 24, 1955, in Bandung, Indonesia, to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation in opposition to colonialism and neo-colonialism of the former metropolises and the United States, as well as their inclusion within the Soviet Union’s exclusive sphere of influence.
The participating countries were Afghanistan, Union of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Dominion of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the People’s Republic of China, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopian Empire, Gold Coast (a British Crown Colony on the Gulf of Guinea, part of present-day Ghana), India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Yemen. Some countries such as Brazil were invited as observers.
A «Declaration on the Promotion of World Peace and Cooperation» with 10 points incorporating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations was unanimously adopted. The Final Communiqué of the Conference stressed the need for developing countries to reduce their economic dependence on the major industrialized nations by providing mutual technical assistance through the exchange of experts and technical assistance for development projects, as well as the exchange of technological know-how and the establishment of regional training and research institutes.
The role of the Western powers
It was evident that those attending the Indonesian city did not anticipate an easy future. Colonialism had not been defeated (if it had been defeated at all) without costs. The imperialist powers still thought they could hold on to their colonies.
After the Bandung Conference, the British Empire carried out a brutal counterinsurgency against the citizens of Malaysia – a war that lasted until 1960 -. London surpassed that violence in Kenya and Rhodesia. Rhodesia is a unique case. It was named after Cecil J. Rhodes, head of the British South Africa Company which operated under a British Crown mandate. When Rodhesia unilaterally declared independence, England applied for recognition as a Commonwealth Kingdom (with Elizabeth II as head of state under the title Queen of Rhodesia), but it eventually became the Republic of Rhodesia and now the Republic of Zimbabwe and Republic of Zambia.
Portugal was also unwilling to allow any freedom to its colonies. Neither France, which was defeated in Vietnam (then Indochina) in 1954, started a terrible war in Algeria to try, unsuccessfully, to defeat the National Front for the Liberation of Algeria (For movie lovers, a great movie narrating the last days of French rule over Algeria: The Battle of Algiers).
The United States rushed to take the French baton in Vietnam, sent its army to overthrow democratically elected governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954), and few years later supported dictatorships in Brazil and Paraguay.
When the leaders of the fragile new states met in Bandung, they were aware of the immense opposition from the imperialist powers they would have to endure. This fact is often overlooked in «post-colonial» analyses; the prefix «post» is erroneous. Something changed with the creation of the Third World Project, but the changes were few.
Kwame Nkrumah, at that time fighting for the independence of the Gold Coast (assimilable to today’s Ghana), attended the founding Conference of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) in Belgrade (1961). The NAM met just after Congo’s independence leader, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated.
Nkrumah, aware that the independence leaders were in the crosshairs of the defenders of the established order, stated that the West thought that a page of history had been closed with the abolition of slavery and direct control of Africa.
But this was false, for when the countries of the then «third world» tried to embark on a new path of their own, the current powers did everything in their power to block it. A coup d’état was organized against Nkrumah in 1966 – a year earlier, he had written his «Neocolonialism: the last stage of Imperialism.»
Leaders with ideas of their own and dreams of achieving autonomy and self-government felt the breath of imperialism on their necks. The defenders of the «international order» were not going to give Africa and the former colonies of Asia a chance.
No component of the Third World Project, nor its cultural, social and economic demands, were well received by the United States and European powers, nor the Soviet Union.
The end of the dream and the start of neo-colonialism
The cultural gatherings and their periodicals, with Lotus at the center – Afro-Asian writers who attempted to reconceive nationalism so that international solidarity would be constitutive of new national projects – would not become the producers of a new vision of history and human culture.
Unable to pivot on the expensive world of television and film, the cultural formations of the Third World Project slowly withered away (and were directly combated by cultural projects funded by U.S. Government´s security and defense organizations).
The economic ideas of development and trade that culminated in the 1974 UN Resolution on the New International Economic Order (NIEO) were attacked by imperialist intellectuals and institutions.
The initial G6 (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, and the United States) -G7 with Canada-, was formed in 1973. It directly confronted the NIEO and tried to break the political authority of the Third World Bloc.
The present is still intolerable.
Bandung is no longer the name of a city but of a group of dreams, of desires for freedom and independence. It was a hope that the imperialist powers needed to quell. The present is still terribly unjust. The citizens of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are not our servants in this world but citizens.
All the countries that blocked the New International Economic Order that sought the autonomy of African and Asian countries from imperial rule continue to bet on doing business in Asia and, more and more, in Africa.
Moreover, since the beginning of the 21st Century, other emerging powers are also developing multilateral partnership platforms with African states. The advocates of (current) international order, the rule of law and democracy, are very critical of these initiatives (debt trap relates and so on).
But before criticising, we should reflect. We need, before seeing the mote in someone else’s eye, to look at the rafter in our own… … but that is another story…