An Exhortation from the President
We are heading for the “good gardens” of Savannah, Georgia, to another promising annual meeting. I don’t know if it can be bigger and better than any heretofore, for we have already congratulated Dr. Soyinke Airewele on having presided over the best conference ever, and rightly so.
There are a few things I do know; I know, or at least I suspect, that countries of the Third World are still undergoing significant political, socio-economic and cultural change, individually and as a whole. It behooves us to take stock of that transformation. While there are centrifugal political forces favoring secession here and there, sometimes aiming to balkanize a region or a country, there are, at the same time, centripetal trends toward forming better cohesion, greater harmony, here and there, around the globe. Some regional organizations seem to have consolidated themselves; certainly the European Union deserves praise on this account and, let us concede, may serve as a role model in this regard. Despite occasional dissent, most African leaders, and most scholars among us, pay at least lip-service to the notion of a Pan-Africa, to the expectations raised by the African Union.
While we have acknowledged the demise of a bipolar world, with its poles around the USA and the USSR, there are clear signs of a return to bipolarity. China is about to overtake Japan and Germany as the world’s second largest economy, in terms of its GDP. China is challenging the United States, not just militarily, but along many domains. In fact, let us face it, China is enjoying superpower status already, along with its restraint, eschewing belligerence, ostensibly advocating world peace.
As we found out, bipolarity proved to be an advantage for the “underdeveloped world.” The two poles were vying for the “hearts and minds” of Africans and of all citizens of underdeveloped regions. Consequently, crumbs off the table from the ongoing Western dinner-party accrued to many a developing nation (or at least to their leaders). Today there is an obvious Chinese presence in Africa, and many other areas of the South. This fresh competition between great powers may well benefit the target countries, once again.
Whether we are heading towards a more universal harmony or whether we shall continue to survive with conflict, distant or next-door, a second Bandung conference may be in order. I am aware that neutral countries have held occasional meetings, after Bandung, but the meeting historians and others recall most readily is the one that took place in Indonesia, with or without “the presence of the white man,” as Malcolm X put it. Perhaps the time has come to hold another meeting under the aegis of neutrality, and to rally the countries of the South across Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa around a common cause. Indeed, there are many common causes; to mention but one, why do Africans, Asians and Latin Americans, banging on the doors of wealthier nations, asking for admittance, sometimes have to pay with their life? Even if these causes are not endorsed by all, even if harmony is not likely to result, the Third World needs another rallying point, another prominent symbol such as Bandung.
Our Association is also a rallying point. We are striving to become more inclusive, geographically, ideologically, but also as regards fields of knowledge. We know that all knowledge is one. We have to turn this concept, this principle into reality.
In concrete, specific terms, we have committed ourselves to recruit new members, in addition to retaining all our former ones. We have committed ourselves to recruiting at least one new member from each of the institutions of higher learning to which we belong, from the schools where we study and teach. We have also committed ourselves to extend greetings to colleagues from countries that are not yet represented in our Association. We have committed ourselves to extend a welcome to faculty and students in disciplines in the humanities, the arts, and the “hard” sciences—disciplines that are presently underrepresented among us. There are scientists, humanists, artists, writers who hail from Third World countries, in our midst, who have been overlooked by us so far, who may not even be aware of our existence as an organization. Moreover, there are scientists, humanists, etc. who are mindful of the Third World, and demand nothing better than for a chance to contribute to our Association, to our meetings and activities. The tragedy in Haiti has been a revelation. It has shown that we can work together across governments, across disciplines, across cultures, across civilizations, that we can overcome self-interest, our urge for selfish personal and national gain, that capitalism and egoism do not trump all. Maybe a new spirit is in the offing, maybe “we are the world.”
Maybe this new spirit is just clamoring for a motto, a new guiding principle, a new leadership. Let us allow the Third World to forge ahead. Perhaps our membership can come up with a meaningful motto that can lead to meaningful action.