OPINION: From Bandung to Davos — and back?

Global warming as white man’s burden

Readers of a certain age and inclination might remember a sometimes-incendiary, often-provocative, most-always-interesting television show on the UK’s Channel Four called Bandung File. Channel Four came to prominence in that brief hundred-flowers spring moment in the Britain of the 70s and early 80s, when Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, was still ‘Red’ Ken, and the Greater London Council had money to spend on any number of beautiful community-driven efforts, from the Southall Black Sisters to water resources planning for the next century. Bandung File, produced by Tariq Ali and Darcus Howe, labelled itself an African-Asian news and current affairs programme. What made it quite unique was that its stated purpose was to canvas opinion from the public and policy-makers in those continents: Its topics were not just what was being done to people of color in the UK, nor even the history of colonial injustice. Instead, it focused on the current concerns of Africans and Asians — its issues ranged from apartheid to street crime in Jamaica and corruption in a Kenyan hospital. With a muckraking exuberance and flair, Bandung File drove the blade in to the hilt. And what made it such refreshing television was it was never dominated by experts from the North; instead it gave free rein to the eloquence of its Southern subjects, whether corrupt politicians or enraged citizens or passionate radicals.

It’s an odd place to begin talking about the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, as Tony asked me to do for Rootless Cosmopolitan, but bear with me. Bandung File was named for a now rather obscure mountain town in Java: a favoured “hill station” to which British, and later brown, sahibs would retire to escape Indonesian summers. This little resort town once took centre stage in world history, in 1955, when it was the seat of an extraordinary conference, when representatives of one half of humanity met to proclaim an end to the colonial era. Some of the countries respresented were newly independent, others not yet quite so; but it was clear that the end of direct colonial rule was near, and this conference of African and Asian people met to ask, what sort of world would follow. We now call this, in an inaccurate Nothern-Hemisphere-centric worldview, the ‘Global South’… but here was born the ‘third world’ — “l’ensemble des peuples d’Asie et d’Afrique qui, n’appartenant ni à la « noblesse » européenne ni au « clergé » américain” (all the peoples of Africa and Asia who belong neither to the European aristocracy nor to the American clergy) — beautiful! The term was thus a direct extrapolation from the ‘Third Estate’ of the French Revolution, and had not acquired its current distorted meaning of distended bellies, child soldiers, and retired dictators living in splendid majesty in the homes of their former paymasters in Hawaii or on the Riviera. [complete article]

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