Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives.
The Afro-Asian international meeting at Bandung, Indonesia in 1955 is usually seen as a key moment in the Cold War, when decolonized and independent countries grouped together as a "non-aligned movement," forsaking the securities and sacrifices of political affiliation with one or the other of the great superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In the Epilogue to this collection of essays about the importance of the gathering, however, Professor Antoinette Burton declares that "Bandung was not so much a place as it was a geopolitical project," a "vehicle for the dissemination of an ideal of cross-racial affinity into the contemporary moment" (pp. 353,355). This book takes up the work of trying to evaluate examples of the activities and limits of that affinity in the more than fifty-five years since the meeting was convened. Readers should be aware that the focus of the book is not the Bandung Conference itself, or the many intriguing incidents and world famous leaders associated with it. Instead, it is a set of essays which try to merge post-Bandung developments in what was proudly called in 1955 the "Third World" with analyses of postcolonialism and globalization. These interpretive frameworks provide the setting for looking at Bandung's "afterlives," that is, the many kinds of cross-cultural and inter-racial discourses that have been taken up since the Conference concluded. These discourses often have nothing specific to do with Bandung itself, but instead offer analyses of the kinds of developments which, the authors generally argue, were on some immaterial level anticipated by the calling of that Conference.
Interestingly, one of the chapters, authored by Professor Michael Adas, begins earlier by discussing the impacts of the First World War upon people who within a generation would start to make the transition from colonial subjects to independent citizens; that War, he contends, did enormous damage to "the European conceit that discovery and invention were necessarily progressive and beneficial to humanity" (p. 79). World War One "destroyed any pretense the Europeans might have of moral superiority" (p. 80), thus murderously but unconditionally proving that the peoples of Africa and Asia who had been controlled by Europeans simply could do no worse in ruling themselves than the Europeans had done in ruling themselves, let alone their colonial possessions.
Other contributions excavate quite unexpected but very fruitful ground in exploring the ways Afro-Asian influences were tested in the years following the Conference. For example Egypt's Nasser, one of the main proponents of Bandung, took the lead away from British and American broadcasters by using shortwave radio programmes beamed to British East Africa to encourage independence movements there. China, a rather unexpected Bandung Conference participant, used its newly developed links to African states to spread Maoist and Cultural Revolution-era ideologies (p. 197), and later to help construct the 1,060-mile TAZARA railway project through landlocked Zambia, then dependent for international trade upon Rhodesia and South Africa, and Tanzania, to its major port at Dares Salaam. Although Chairman Mao approved the plan for the railroad at the height of the Cultural Revolution, there were delays; but this was China's largest overseas development project during its construction in the early 1970s (p. 243). Professor Burton, noting that Chinese engineers in Africa and African students in China often encountered race-based difficulties and obstruction, rightly notes that "the question of where legacies of imperial racism stop and new racialized policies begin remains an open question" with "critical significance for the histories of transregional/transnational community formations" (p. 356). Exploring these questions, one solid article outlines the development and characteristics of post-colonial constitutions throughout the Global South, while another investigates representations of Bandung and women's roles as portrayed in the Egyptian women's press of the 1950s and 1960s.
This is a very readable and useful collection of essays shaped around the ideals and challenges that formed the "Bandung Spirit." The publisher, Ohio University Press, permitted inclusion of both a combined bibliography and a cumulative index, rather a rarity amongst anthologies these days. It should be of greatest interest to collections on development politics, the modern Global South, international relations, post-colonial studies, and modern Asian and African studies.
Laura M. Calkins
Texas Tech University
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|Author:||Calkins, Laura M.|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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