Centenary of Ralph Bunche Celebrated by Conference at UCLA
Frank discussions examine the Nobel Prize winning diplomat's contributions to African Studies, his controversial role in the Congo crisis of 1960, and his legacy of trusteeship for emergent and failed states.
Some 60 Africanists, other scholars, and present and former United Nations staff members gathered in the Humanities Conference room at UCLA's Royce Hall June 3 and 4 for a conference to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Nobel Prize winning diplomat Ralph Bunche (1904-1971). The gathering reviewed some of the major events in Ralph Bunche's life and his contributions to ongoing issues such as decolonization in Africa and in African Studies, his clash with Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in the 1960 crisis in that country, and Bunche's role in the post-World War II period in developing United Nations policy for international trusteeships over emergent or failed states. The conference was jointly sponsored by the Marcus Garvey Papers Project and the UCLA Globalization Research Center - Africa, under the auspices of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center. The chief organizers of the conference were professors Robert Hill of the Garvey Project and Ed Keller of the Globalization Research Center - Africa.
Bunche was born in Detroit. Orphaned at 12, he was raised in Los Angeles by his grandmother, Lucy Taylor Johnson, the daughter of a house slave. He distinguished himself early as an outstanding intellect and graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1927, although he had had to work his way through college as a janitor and was refused membership in the UCLA debate team because he was black. He taught at Howard University in Washington, DC, while working on his PhD dissertation at Harvard. He received his doctorate from Harvard in 1934 for fieldwork in Togoland and Dahomey in Africa. He later served in the U.S. State Department, and in 1946 became head of the United Nations Department of Trusteeship. He had long associations with many American institutions of higher learning. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his work in 1948 as UN mediator between the Arabs and the new State of Israel leading to the peace agreement at the end of the war that produced Israel's independence. He later served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, most notably in the peacekeeping mission to the Congo in the summer of 1960, where he clashed with Pan-Africanist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Some fifteen scholars or former associates of Ralph Bunche presented papers at the UCLA conference. These mostly focused on his role in the emergence of Africa from colonial domination between the end of World War II and the 1960s.
The Young Ralph Bunche -- A Dislike of Pan-Africanism
The conference opened with an evening session June 3 that heard an address by Martin Kilson of Harvard University entitled "The Young Ralph J. Bunche and Africa: Betwixt and Between Marxism and Pragmatism." Kilson looked at Bunche's early writings from the period of the 1930s, which elaborated a class-based Marxian theory of European colonialism in Africa. Bunche looked toward a deracialized, market dominated Africa freed of foreign domination. Already in these early writings, notably his 1934 Harvard PhD dissertation, Bunche staked out a view hostile to race-based political movements, particularly Pan-Africanism. Kilson argued that Bunche was a pragmatic rationalist and that he was "too removed from the oppressive specificity of the imperialist process in colonial Africa."
Why Didn't Decolonization Have Better Results?
The full day of panels and talks on June 4 opened with a discussion of "Africa in the Global Decolonization Process." This session was chaired by Charles Henry of the University of California, Berkeley, author of Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other (New York University Press, 1998). The discussion was opened by Chidiebere Nwaubani, University of Colorado at Boulder. He proposed that gaining political independence in the 1960s amounted largely to replacing European personnel with Africans in the various countries of the continent but "did not subvert the colonial relationship . . . . European interests remained paramount behind the façade of African rule."
Ralph Austen of the University of Chicago suggested that the relatively little resistance to African independence in the 1960s compared to the British war with the Americans in the late eighteenth century or the Chinese in mid-nineteenth century reflected the post-colonial return to free market globalization more typical of the early nineteenth century. This free trade impetus, he said, was strengthened by self-organization in the Third World and competition with the Soviet Union in the cold war, both of which increased pressure to take Third World public opinion into account. On the negative side, he said, it was possible to view the neoliberal substitution of markets for colonies in Africa as "a kind of abandonment."
Francis Nesbitt, an assistant professor at San Diego State University and one of this year's Global Fellows at the UCLA International Institute, took up the clash between Ralph Bunche and South African Premier Jan Smuts at the founding conference of the United Nations over the status of Southwest Africa. Smuts campaigned for annexation of Southwest Africa to the Union of South Africa. He was supported in this by the United States and Britain. Ralph Bunche, as head of the UN's Trusteeship Council, parried Smuts' efforts by inviting "anti-apartheid activists from the continent and the diaspora to address the Trusteeship Council although they were not officially represented." Nesbitt concluded that "collaboration between activists and black government officials and diplomats on the inside was the secret weapon of the anti-apartheid movement in the United States," both in 1945 and again in the 1980s in the campaign for sanctions against white-ruled South Africa.
The final speaker of this panel was Professor Ntongela Masilela of Pitzer College, who spoke on Ralph Bunche's contacts with African intellectuals during his dissertation research in Togoland and Dahomey in 1932-33. A number, such as R. V. Selope Thema, D. D. T. Jabavu, and Pixley ka Isaka Seme met with Bunche, but, Masilela said, Bunche had difficulty sympathizing with their ethnic-centered ethos in light of his view of modernism as a product of class emancipation.
Decolonizing African Studies
The next panel moved from Africa itself to the study of Africa. The high point of this section was a reminiscence of Ralph Bunche and on the emergence of African Studies in American universities as a serious discipline by the venerable Elliott Percival Skinner. Skinner is Franz Boas Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Columbia University and former U.S. ambassador to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).
Pearl Robinson, Tufts University, explored a wide range of Ralph Bunche's publications, letters, and other sources to frame Bunche's analysis of Africa and its impact on the field of African Studies. She traced three central themes in Bunche's paradigm: the idea of W. E. B. Du Bois that a talented tenth of the black population would carry the mission of racial uplift; that intellectuals and modern social science would play a central part in restructuring society; and "applications of Bronislaw Malinowski's functionalist paradigm to studies of culture conflict and change."
David Anthony of the University of California, Santa Cruz, commented that, though never a full-time Africanist, Bunche made important contributions to the field. Bunche had studied under some of the leading anthropologists of his day, Melville Herskovits at Northwest and Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. He was an early advocate and practitioner of field work in Africa rather than only the study of documents. While still a graduate student, Anthony said, Bunche "was already clear about the fragility of colonial rule and the inevitability of its eventual demise. . . . [which] distinguishes him among Africanists, many of whom then and later kept their distance from taking stands deemed harmful to their objectivity." Bunche was also more of an activist than many scholars of his day, taking part in the International Committee on African Affairs founded in 1937 by Max Yergan and Paul Robeson, which he later dropped as too much influenced by the Communist Party and went on to his career in international diplomacy.
War and Peacekeeping in Africa
An important part of Ralph Bunche's UN career was involved with peacekeeping missions in Africa. Almost half of the conference was devoted to this theme, under two panels: a general one on "War and Peacekeeping in Africa" and one on the most significant African crisis in which Bunche participated: the 1960 independence of the Congo that devolved into the Katangan secession and the murder of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
The first of these panels heard Herschelle Challenor of USAID, UCLA Africanist Richard Sklar, and Salih Booker of Africa Action.
Herschelle Challenor commented that there was no formal set of rules in the UN Charter for a peacekeeping mission. "Since 1948," she said, "the United Nations has authorized 57 peacekeeping operations and 18, or 32%, of these have been on the African continent." Ralph Bunche was intimately involved in six of these, in designing the missions and evolving their procedures, over the time he served as Under Secretary-General of the UN, from 1954 to 1971. Initially UN forces were unarmed and prohibited from any resort to force except in self defense.
The Congo, where Bunche was briefly the military commander, "was the first time that a UN peacekeeping operation was mandated by the Security Council to use force for a political end: to stop the secession of Katanga."
Richard Sklar compared the Congo wars of the 1960s with those of today. Just as today the aim of U.S. and UN policy is to stop the Congo's neighbors from intervening in that country, so "in 1961 Hammarskjold and Bunche sought to prevent Southern Rhodesian whites from extending into the Congo."
Today, Sklar said, "Colin Powell seeks to restore authority in the Congo. He seeks to prevent spheres of predominant interest by neighborhood insiders." He lamented the interventions in the Congo of Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda. "The result has been a persistent 'hidden' war accounting for an estimated 3.5 million deaths since 1998." He pointed to the similar devastation states by their neighbors in Northeastern and Western Africa. While Western imperialism was the traditional enemy of African nationalists, Sklar argued that the current U.S. open door policy is a desirable counterweight for weak African states that face hostile dictatorial regimes nearby. "The open door is based on the maxim of openness, of commerce, of investment, and on the idea of modernizations of society. It was suspended by the United States for Africa during the period of the cold war in deference to [European] allies, but after the cold war the United States has reasserted the policy of the open door. Ron Brown, late secretary of commerce, was instrumental in this."
For African states faced with the threat of violence from neighboring powers, Sklar said, "It is their prerogative to seek external guardians. Appeal to the United States would be very much in the tradition of honoring the legacy and tradition of Ralph Bunche."
In the Congo today, he said, "the greatest danger comes along fault lines, especially the one that runs from Kinshasa [capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] to Kigali [the capital of Rwanda], where you have internal groups that align themselves with Rwanda or Kinshasa. The most dangerous of all is the Union of Patriotic Congolese led by Thomas Lubanga, a very dangerous man in opposition to the militias aligned with Kinshasa. The most dangerous militia is also aligned with Rwanda. Turbulence is leading to increasing conflict."
The significance of the current UN operation in the Congo, Sklar said, "is an attempt to control these elements of turbulence. The person in the Ralph Bunche tradition there now is William Lacy Swing, a wise choice as a deputy in the Congo."
Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, recalled that "Ralph Bunche wasn't allowed to be on the UCLA debate club when he was here because they wouldn't let Negroes on." Bunche Hall at UCLA, where the Center for African Studies is located, was completed in 1964, but named for Ralph Bunche in 1969. Bunche spoke at the dedication. "Students at UCLA insisted to name the hall after Ralph Bunche," Salih Booker said, "not the UCLA administration."
Turning to Africa, he continued, "Most African nations are not at war, but the dozen or so conflicts that do exist disastrously impact on the continent. There is a peace process of each of the major conflicts. What is lacking usually is sufficient support from the UN or from the governments of rich countries that have constrained the UN peacekeeping role.
"In 1948 Ralph Bunche created the first peace truce observer mission. They would be unarmed. This has remained a successful approach in many cases. In 1956 he was the lead figure in creating the Suez emergency force, where they had to improvise quickly. They rejected troops bringing national flags; there is no representation of your nationality. The UN adopted the blue beret at that time."
Booker attributed the failure of peacekeeping in Africa "largely to the lack of international will." He accused the developed countries of holding a double standard. He compared the response in Sierra Leone and the Congo to that in Kosovo. "In Kosovo some 30,000 troops were dispatched, initially after only a few dozen killings in ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo where more than 3 million have died there are a little over 10,000 UN troops." He also said that $1.19 was spent on each Kosovo refugee while only $.19 was spent on each African refugee.
Booker criticized the rich countries of the world for leaving peacekeeping in Africa to the immediate neighbors of the troubled states. "It should not be the expectation that Liberia's immediate neighbors have the capacity to bring peace and security to Liberia. 'Let the Africans sort this out themselves.' You are expecting the most impoverished peoples in the world to resolve these kinds of conflicts."
He added that the U.S. armed forces "are disproportionately comprised of peoples of African descent but the one continent where they won't send troops for peacekeeping is Africa. The U.S. refused to use the word genocide in Rwanda to avoid their legal obligation to intervene." Booker distinguished his view from that of people who see all American military intervention abroad as imperialist and negative. "We have to challenge the idea that the U.S. can't do any good with its military forces anywhere. We have to demand that U.S. military forces be used in Africa for peacekeeping operations."
Ralph Bunche and Patrice Lumumba
A Critical View of Bunche's Role in the Congo
One of the major crises in Ralph Bunche's life, and one where his role was less creditable than in other episodes, was his part in the UN intervention in the Congo in 1960-61, leading to the assassination of Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba. A full panel at the conference was devoted to this controversial issue and it was confronted very directly.
Three distinguished panelists reviewed Bunche's conduct in the Congo, each with a different viewpoint. The most critical was Congolese political scientist Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, director of the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre. Nzongola-Ntalaja is professor emeritus of African studies at Howard University in Washington, DC, and a former president of the African Studies Association of the United States. The other panelists were Crawford Young, emeritus political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; also a former president of the African Studies Association. And John Olver, who had served with the United Nations since 1945, including as Chief Administrative Officer of the UN Emergency Force in the Gaza Strip in 1957, and in a similar post in the Congo in 1960 under Ralph Bunche. He later held responsible positions in the UN until his retirement in 1980, including as Assistant Secretary-General.
Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja turned directly to the early and sharp animosity of Ralph Bunche toward Patrice Lumumba. "How could a person as progressive and radical as he is depicted within the UN been so mistaken about Lumumba and about Congo independence?" he asked.
"Bunche was sent to the Congo in June 1960 to represent Hammarskjold at the independence ceremonies. He stayed on for over two months and became commander of the UN operations in the Congo. He took part in the decisions whose ultimate result was the fall of Lumumba, the democratically elected prime minister." Nzongola-Ntalaja said that Bunche "Shared the common cold war outlook, seeing Lumumba as too influenced by Pan-Africanism to be friendly to Western interests."
He traced the events between June and August 1960, beginning with Lumumba's independence day speech. "Bunche arrived with negative attitudes toward Lumumba, negative toward all radical nationalists including Nasser and Nkrumah. The Belgians briefed Bunche negatively about Lumumba. He had won a plurality in elections but was not the first choice of Belgians, who backed Kasavubu, whose party had only 12 seats compared to more than 30 for Lumumba's party. Once Lumumba became prime minister he agreed to help Kasavubu as titular head of state. The first sign of division came on June 30, 1960, with Lumumba's independence day speech against Belgian colonialism, now a classic speech."
The Belgian king had recently declared that Congolese independence was the culmination of the civilizing mission begun by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1895. "Lumumba summarized the crimes of the Belgians toward the Congo. He was accused afterward of being insulting. Those who criticized Lumumba's speech did not comment on the insult of the Belgian king's speech justifying a ruler responsible for more than ten million deaths in their country."
A crisis erupted immediately after the declaration of Congolese independence when the governor of Katanga province, Moises Tshombe, in turn declared independence from the Congo and seceded, with the backing of white mercenaries, foreign mining interests, and Belgian troops. The UN announced it was prepared to use force to return Katanga to the Congo, but temporized with Tshombe and stood aside as Congolese President Kasavubu and Premier Lumumba fell out and mutually dismissed each other from office at the beginning of September.
At the beginning of the Katanga secession "Lumumba appealed to the United States for military intervention" against Tshombe and his Belgian supporters. "Then he switched to appeal to the United Nations. The Security Council authorized a mission with Bunche as interim force commander. The purpose of the UN intervention was to remove Belgian troops and end the Katanga secession." Dag Hammarskjold adopted a stance of asking the Belgians to leave peacefully. They did so in the main part of the Congo, "but this was certainly not true in Katanga." Instead of confronting the Belgians in Katanga, however, "the UN tried to take over the rest of the Congo while not intervening in Katanga. The UN was acting as though it was the governing authority in the Congo."
Bunche, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja contended, was successfully bluffed by Tshombe, who threatened strong civilian resistance to the entry of UN troops into Katanga. "There were only Belgian troops and white mercenaries in rebellion."
Faced with the failure of the UN to act, "Lumumba decided to rely on his own army to end the secession. He then asked the Soviet Union for trucks and other materiel. Washington looked on him as an African Fidel Castro. Bunche's reports left UN officials questioning Lumumba's mental stability, while Washington thought he was a communist."
Bunche was replaced at the end of August 1960. "The UN temporary commander between Bunche and his successor helped to remove Lumumba from power. So witting or unwitting they provided the justification for removing a democratically elected leader by illegal means."
On September 5, 1960, Congolese President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba. Lumumba in turn declared Kasavubu's action illegal. Parliament backed Lumumba. On September 19, Congolese Army Chief of Staff Colonel Joseph Mobutu declared that the army had decided to neutralize both governments and establish a College of Commissioners to administer the country on an interim basis. Lumumba became a de facto prisoner in the prime minister's residence, guarded by U.N. forces who were in turn surrounded by Congolese Army troops. He escaped on November 27 and tried to make his way overland to his home province. He was soon captured and imprisoned by Mobutu's forces. He was flown to Elizabethville in Katanga in January 1961. He was beaten to death either on the plane or shortly after his arrival.
A Low Point in Bunche's Career
Crawford Young regarded Bunche's distaste for Lumumba as a failing, but equally saw Lumumba as naïve in the ways of the larger world and regarded both men as victims of the chaotic situation.
"Bunche set forth for the Congo in late June 1960 expecting to take part in the independence celebrations and help Congo apply for UN membership. He was a person ideally suited to play the role he was called on to play, through his African-focused dissertation work, his African study in 1932-33 and 1936-38, his Kenya stay, his Africa work with the OSS in World War II. He had shown diplomatic skill in working in the Palestine-Israel crisis that won him the Nobel Prize. He had strong personal ties to Dag Hammarskjold."
Young also pointed to what proved to be a failing in Bunche's world view: "He had a visceral distaste for people he viewed as demagogues. He so regarded Lumumba." Young called this "a tragic incompatibility."
After Lumumba's assassination, Young recounted, Bunche in a 1964 speech "characterized Lumumba as a spellbinding speaker, tireless, shrewd, perceptive, suspicious of people around him. Perhaps a leftist but nobody's stooge." However, while he was in the Congo and trying to work with Lumumba in 1960, Bunche wrote to his wife: "that madman Lumumba is recklessly on the attack against Dag and the UN" and referred to "the insane fulminations of one reckless man."
Turning to Lumumba, Crawford Young described him as "a young leader of towering ambition. A major handicap, in my reading, was coming to power with a limited experience in statecraft or feeling for the global forces that would be mobilized by the Congo crisis."
Young briefly summarized the issues in the crisis: "The Belgian formula consisted of creating a Congolese superstructure while the whole command structure of the civil service and the army was to remain entirely Belgian. That was an impossible structure. Other decolonizations took place over time. This was to take place overnight, giving rise to extravagant hope and an undercurrent of fear. The trigger event was the mutiny of the whole army five days after independence. The fear factor exploded. It gave rise to a mood of panic. This was followed by the Katanga secession and of diamond producing area. The Western powers were obsessed with the notion of communist penetration. On the Congolese side this validated the idea of an imperialist plot to undo African independence."
Lumumba's majority was narrow, he said, with little real discipline over nominal members of his party. He soon "became isolated with a small entourage." When Kasavubu and Lumumba fell out, "America intervened to overthrow Lumumba."
Young called the Congo intervention "a low point in Bunche's distinguished career of service." He concluded: "The outcome was certainly a tragic one. His inability to overcome his hostile relationship with Lumumba was the first chapter in a long period of tragedy in the Congo."
An Old Associate Remembers
John Olver was one of the few people at the conference who knew Ralph Bunche personally, and certainly the one who knew him best. "I joined the UN in 1946," he said, "when the temporary headquarters was set up in New York, first in Hunter College and later in a military facility. Ralph Bunche's office was just down the hall from my office. One day he asked me whether I thought he might be able to join in with a small football pool we had organized. There were about a dozen of us young American involved. Later it turned out that for a couple of weeks running Ralph won the pool and there was a lot of grumbling, saying it wasn't fair because he knew all the West Coast teams."
Olver worked with Ralph Bunche in the Middle East during the Suez crisis in 1956-57. "This was the creation of the first peacekeeping machine that the UN had been able to produce," he recalled. "I had been asked to work on the financial plans for this first emergency force. . . . I had to get out there and be the chief manager for the force. The Secretary-General always insisted on having his final civilian authority over the forces that were brought into the scene. Think what it takes working from New York by telephone and telegraph to put together an integrated viable military force -- without even a common uniform."
One time in Gaza, he said, "we needed desperately to get in touch with authorities in Jerusalem, but we were prohibited from going into Israel. Ben Gurion had insisted that we were not to cross the line into Israel. I called Ralph and told him we had contacted the authorities. He asked how that could be. I said we had one little line we had rolled across the armistice line and they didn’t know about it. He was furious and said this was the kind of thing that could destroy us."
Olver also served under Ralph Bunche in the Congo. "We didn't have email, photocopies, and faxes. The Secretary-General kept coming out, which threw us into disarray. We didn’t have the facilities to take care of him. The local telephone service didn’t work well." Olver went to look at the phone boxes in the basement. "I found hundreds of wires hooked into their system by foreign espionage agencies that weakened its signals." Dag Hammarskjold said to leave the taps alone as it was the price of being the center of attention. Olver described the UN Congo mission as having "a chaotic existence and a hand to mouth administration."
JohnOlver gave his own view of the Congo politics at that time: "I could see Lumumba was a very difficult person to deal with because he tended to shift emphasis. I myself came to believe that a greater problem for Ralph in terms of personalities, even greater than Lumumba, was Tshombe in Katanga trying to break away with the Belgians. I remember the first time Ralph went down to see if he could reason with Tshombe in Elizabethville. I worried about him. He came back in the late afternoon looking as defeated as I ever saw Ralph Bunche. Did you make any progress? He replied, 'Johnny, if Hollywood tried to make a picture out of this they would be laughed out of every theater in the country. They can take Katanga and they can shove it.'"
Olver also had a very negative assessment of the first UN military commander in the Congo crisis, General Von Horn. "He had been commander of the forces in Jerusalem. He was one of those military who did not understand how the civilian command was supposed to work so he was a problem for me and Ralph all along the way."
Trusteeship Then and Now: Aid to Troubled States or a New Colonialism?
The final session of the conference was an evening keynote speech by Neta Crawford of Brown University. Ralph Bunche was chosen by UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie in 1946 to head the UN's Trusteeship Department. In this capacity he developed much of the UN protocols for taking over and managing states emerging from colonialism or collapsing into anarchy. This was and remains today an extremely touchy issue, as protectorates were a standard device of imperial empires for establishing colonial rule, and trusteeship by definition meant the loss of sovereignty to a foreign military and civil administration.
The United Nations trusteeship system, begun in 1946, Neta Crawford said, "had its roots in the British colonial regime in India, the civilizing mission, then the League of Nations mandate system of 1918-1945. It was an outgrowth of colonial mission: civilizing native races, bringing them Christianity, etc." She pointed to an extensive current discussion in U.S. policy journals going back to the early 1990s of reviving schemes of long-term foreign control over "failed states" as a contemporary revival of the trusteeship idea.
"Now we see a return to the later ideas of the League of Nations mandates," she said, citing among others an article by Paul Johnson in the April 18, 1993, New York Times entitled "Colonialism Back and Not a Moment Too Soon." Crawford noted that "Paul Johnson suggested mandates of 50 or 100 years."
She asked: "What kinds of institutions were trusteeships? Was it a progressive development? Or was it regressive and paternalistic? Is it an appropriate model for failed states today?"
At the end of World War I the League of Nations established mandates over territories taken in war. Among these were an important part of the Middle East: Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. "The population of mandatory states was not involved in writing mandate agreements," Crawford said. There were annual written reports by the mandatory power to the League of Nations. Representatives of these mainly European governments could be questioned by the League of Nations Permanent Mandate Commission, but no physical inspections were included in the rules.
"Were mandates better than colonies? Bunche studied this in his dissertation. There was a single French administration in Togoland and Dahomey, which were contiguous territories. Dahomey was a French colony, Togoland was a mandate administered by France. Togoland was better in some respects. Forced labor was lighter for residents of Togoland than Dahomey, tax was lighter, there was greater representation of natives in government."
At the same time, there were "no injunctions to restrain unjust practices, no method for the League to verify statements made by the mandatory powers in their annual reports."
Although flawed, "Bunche saw them as progressive institutions. He wrote that 'Public opinion will compel as it has to an extent already, the extension of identical principles to retarded peoples throughout the world, whether they dwell in areas held as colonies and possessions or not.' Today we would find these ideas paternalistic."
After World War II, the United Nations trusteeship system replaced mandates. "Bunche took part in drafting the chapters on this. He expanded the role of oversight and accountability. Here he used his insights gained in studying the mandate system. He developed more detailed questionnaires to assess trusteeship administration. The trusteeship council was empowered to make periodic visits to the territory, which had not been true of the mandate system." The rules of trusteeship provided for the right to petition directly to the UN, "an innovation that comes directly from Bunche's dissertation. The trusteeship system had an enormous impact on the decolonization project."
The main improvements were greater international oversight and accountability. "It was also assumed the trusteeships would be of limited duration, with the aim of self-determination, self-government, and autonomy. It assisted states on the road to self-government."
In the 1980s and 1990s UN oversight of country governments has been renamed the transitional administration. "We have seen gradually larger peacekeeping missions in the 1980s and 1990s, mission creep, where peacekeeping becomes peacemaking and nation-building. This is trusteeship in all but name." Neta Crawford gave the examples of Cambodia in 1992, Bosnia, Eastern Slavonia, Kosovo, East Timor, and Liberia.
"To these have been added ad hoc postwar occupations not run by the United Nations, primarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sierra Leone." She raised a concern that control by individual governments rather than the United Nations has provided "less accountability than in the trusteeships."
She concluded by characterizing the new trusteeships and occupations "a paradoxical institution." Even in Ralph Bunche's day, she said, such foreign control "was both paternalistic and cover for exploitation and a progressive institution for nation building" which sometimes led to paternalism and relations of dependency.
Ralph Bunche had seen this problem and in 1947 pointed to "the essential anomaly in the profession of democratic principles as the basis for world order and the ruling of one people by another." Crawford concluded that such imposed regimes are "not so bad as their detractors assert nor so benign as their supporters allege. They at least gives the people of the territory someone to appeal to besides the occupier. We must keep the elements of oversight and accountability that Bunche made more robust and prominent in contemporary trusteeships."
Published: Friday, June 11, 2004