By Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali
First Published in the People’s VOICE, May 16-31st-2015

Leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement Bandung Conference 1955

Leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement Bandung Conference 1955

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival in Canada is major news. Modi is being greeted like he is a musical star like Bob Marley or Bruce Springsteen. India has a long history of leaning left and not being a servant of Western interest. It is no surprise that this Asian nation is a foundation member of BRICS.

The new kid on the economic block is BRICS an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The grouping was originally known as “BRIC” before the inclusion of South Africa in 2010.

They are distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs; all five are G-20 members. Since 2010, the BRICS nations have met annually at formal summits. Russia currently holds the chair of the BRICS group, and will host BRICS seventh the summit in July 2015.

BRICS countries represent almost 3 billion people, or approximately 40% of the world population. The five nations have a combined nominal GDP of US$16.039 trillion, equivalent to approximately 20% of the gross world product, and an estimated US$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves. Many feel that BRICS is a continuation of the Bandung Conference.

History will record two Bandung conferences. The first took place 60 years ago between April 18-24, 1955 at which 29 African and Asian nations met in Bandung, Indonesia to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism.

The idea of the Bandung Conference came from Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia. It was conceived in Colombo, Indonesia, where the Colombo powers – India, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar) and Indonesia, the host country – met in April 1954. The Bandung Conference led to the 1961 creation of the Non-Aligned Movement.

At that moment in history Josip Broz Tito was the president of Yugoslavia. The Non–Aligned Movement was founded in Belgrade. The idea for the group was largely conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Other players were U Nu Burma’s first prime minister, Sukarno Indonesia’s first president, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president.

The second Bandung Conference took place in 2005. The first head of state to arrive at the 2005 conference was South African President Thabo Mbeki. Ironically, South Africa along with Israel, Taiwan and North and South Korea were all barred from the 1955 conference. In light of recent tragic events, Mbeki visited the tsunami stricken province of Aceh before he proceeded to the conference.

I first heard about the Bandung Conference in the mid-1960s while listening to a speech by El-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) titled “Message to the Grassroots,” first delivered at the King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Malcolm talked about places and faces I had never heard of, however, he didn’t get it completely correct. There were White people at the Bandung conference. Marshal Tito represented Yugoslavia, and there were American, Australian and numerous members of the European press. In fact, African American journalist Ethel Payne, who was at Bandung, pointed out, “The British had sent just hordes of correspondents, and the Dutch and the Germans and all the European countries.”

Africans in North America paid close attention to this historic event. In Canada, Daniel Braithwaite’s organization, which had a relationship with the U.S.-based Council on African Affairs (CAA), sent a message of support. Braithwaite was so impressed by CAA co-founder Paul Robeson that he not only started a CAA chapter in Toronto, he named his son Paul in tribute to Robeson. Other Africanists like W.E.B. DuBois, Alphaeus and Dorothy Hunton, along with Robeson, were members of the Council on African Affairs.

At the time of the first Bandung Conference, the North American left, in general, and the African liberation movement inside the United States, in particular were under attack. Senator Joseph McCarthy was looking for a “red under every bed.” Robeson, “the Tallest Tree in the Forest,” wanted to attend the conference but couldn’t because the U.S. government had taken his passport. Ditto for DuBois. However, several African American politicians and journalists found themselves in Indonesia from April 18-25, 1955. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Carl T. Rowan, Dr. Marguerite Cartwright, journalist Payne Richard Wright and William Worthy all were there.

Worthy who joined the ancestors on May 4, 2014 at the age of 92 has almost been written out of history was in Bandung. He interviewed President Sukarno at the time.

Powell, the Congressman from Harlem, went to the Conference on a dare. He wanted to attend to represent the interests of U.S. imperialism by talking about the progress the Negro in America was making. “It will mark the first time in history that the world’s non-White people have held such a gathering,” he told reporters in Washington, D.C., “and it could be the most important of this century.” Powell, no matter what we think of him, knew what time it was. His appeals to President Eisenhower and others in the State Department fell on deaf ears. The flamboyant Powell was told the U.S. government saw no need to send an official observer to Bandung. However, he got there compliment of the African American weekly newspaper, New York Age-Defender. Karl Evanzz pointed out in his brilliant book, ‘The Judas Factor’, “There was at least one unofficial observer: at the request of John Foster Dulles’ brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, a young African American journalist named Carl T. Rowan covered the conference.”

Rowan went on to become the Director of the United States Information Agency. He also went on to alienate a generation of Africans in America after the February 21, 1965 assassination of Malcolm X. Rowan’s statement after Malcolm’s death was: “All this about an ex-convict, ex-dope peddler who became a racial fanatic.”

Of the two female African American journalists at the conference, the well-connected Dr. Cartwright represented a chain of White dailies and the United Nations. The lesser-known Payne was the new kid on the block and represented the Chicago Defender, which was part of John Sengstacke’s chain of Black weeklies.

Payne, who went on to be crowned “The First Lady of the Black Press” said she had little or no contact in Indonesia with Dr. Cartwright. Of Cartwright, Payne said, “She had a desk at the U.N. and so she had quite a lot of access that I didn’t have.” However, Payne did network with writer Richard Wright, a one-time member of the Communist Party USA who went on his own and wrote the book, “The Color Curtain”, about the Bandung Conference. “The Color Curtain” was first published by University Press of Mississippi in 1956. Wright wrote about the faces and places in Indonesia in 1955, and one can feel him learning about what would come to be called “The Third World.”

The first Bandung Conference was attended by 21 Asian, seven African and one Eastern European country. The second was attended by 54 Asian and 52 African nations. The Asian-African Conference has been transformed into the Asia-Africa Summit. A recent re-reading of Robeson’s “Here I Stand” made me realize how important these two conferences are to humanity. At both, questions of world peace, South-South cooperation, nuclear weapons and Palestine were discussed.

The great Paul Robeson wanted to attend the Bandung Conference. Robeson summed it up in these words. He said, “How I would love to see my brothers from Africa, India, China, Indonesia and from all the people represented at Bandung. In your midst are old friends I knew in London years ago, where I first became part of the movement for colonial freedom – the many friends from India and Africa and the West Indies with whom I shared hopes and dreams of a new day for the oppressed colored peoples of the world. And I might have come as an observer had I been granted a passport by the State Department whose lawyers have argued that `in view of the applicant’s frank admission that he has argued that in view of the applicant’s frank admission that he has been fighting for the freedom of the colonial people of Africa . . .the diplomatic embarrassment that could arise from the presence abroad of such a political meddler (sic!) travelling under the protection of an American passport, is easily imaginable!’ So all the best to all of you. Together with all of progressive mankind, with lovers of peace and freedom everywhere, I salute your history-making conference.”

Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, grew up in Los Angeles, and came to Canada after refusing to fight in Vietnam. Richmond is currently working as a producer/host of Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio His column Diasporic Music appears monthly in The Burning Spear newspaper.


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