The Jakarta Post
Addressing the opening of the Asian-African Conference (AAC) in Bandung in 1955, then president Sukarno vowed, 'Let the new Asia and a new Africa be born!' This spirit of a new beginning resonated not only through the struggle against colonialism, but also in a move toward delinking from global superpowers and in inspiring decolonial ways of conducting politics, economy and cultural affairs in regional and global settings.
The term 'decolonial' is now being taken seriously by critical and anti-hegemonic thinkers and strugglers, especially among Latin American scholars and activists, with parallel resonances in Asia and Africa. The thinkers do not limit their attention to colonialism, but to the 'coloniality', meaning all forms of domination and subjugation between and among nations and peoples.
Colonialism might have ended with the formation of many nation-states, but coloniality prevails in global and national politics, economics and cultures, taking the forms of exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.
It remains entangled in global, regional, and national arenas, manifested in market regulations, development policy interventions covered by aid, investments and corporations, security and war policies, for instance.
Asian and African countries remain a source of wealth for advanced countries. As appropriately notified by the dependency theory of old, the present world order remains colonial in terms of resource flow from a 'periphery' of poor and underdeveloped states to a 'core' of wealthy states, enriching the wealthy countries at the expense of the third world.
It works not by occupation and military power, but by the 'governmentality', or the sets of institutions, procedures, norms and regulations, belief systems and knowledge, calculations and tactics that facilitate the complex form of power.
Asian and African countries are positioned as 'under-developed' and 'third world' ' who are in constant need of loans and the policy adjustments prescribed by their western masters. Governments of Asia and Africa have proved to lack courage to delink themselves from global neoliberal capitalism.
Asian and African countries also develop their own regional and national colonial regimes. China is becoming a new 'colonial' power in Asia and Africa. Internally, many countries apply neoliberal policies, resulting in exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence against certain communities, religions, indigenous groups and one gender.
Within this complex prevalence of coloniality, what is the significance of the AAC's 60-year commemoration today?
Drafting a more normative consensus or declaration is inadequate, since the principles agreed in 1955 (Dasasila Bandung) and partnership agreement in 2005 (New Asian-African Strategic Partnership) have not been fully implemented.
Rather it should be a momentum for re-articulation of 'decolonial' thinking and the struggles of Asian and African countries and peoples, covering three interrelated elements.
Firstly, Asian and African countries need to develop a new common awareness as decolonial subjects. They should overcome their inferiority and then articulate their position in development and politics. Just like the spirit of the Bandung Conference, the present Asian and African leaders and people should rearticulate their self-determination of their own future.
Secondly, delinking from the legacy of domination in today's neoliberal capitalistic system. Countries could explore alternative ways of organizing life and livelihood in Asia and Africa, of practicing power, such as democracy, human rights, development, investment, etc.
Thirdly, set up new vision and agendas for alternative political, economic, and cultural reforms. Decolonial options requires radical change: from domination to co-existence and global justice, from exploitation to collaboration, from racialism to solidarity, from war and violence to sustainable peace.
In politics, there should be new articulation of politics, from domination of elites toward a people-centered democratic rule of, by and for the people.
In economics, Asia and Africa need radical change from having capitalistic and market-based corporate-driven economies, toward a people-centered economy. There should be a concrete agenda toward alternative development that ensures the survival, wellbeing and dignity of their people, their nature and culture.
In cultural aspects, Asia and Africa are home to many world spiritualities. Decolonial options require the countries to nurture and defend that knowledge and those values while inspiring new politics and economics in global and local arenas. The role of Asian and African intellectuals and activists are crucial in this regards.
All these require a 'mental revolution', a change in way of thinking and working, translated into political, economic and cultural policies, and also in global diplomacy and negotiations. The challenge ahead is a project of finding new non-colonial ways, based on a sense of community and solidarity and new forms of power exercise, to find new ways of ensuring survival, wellbeing and the dignity of millions of marginalized and oppressed people in Asia and Africa.
The writer is a researcher at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland, and is also a member of Yayasan Teratai Hati Papua.
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