Instructor's Notes by Dr. W. Ofuatey-Kodjoe, Graduate School City
University of New York
These notes are intended to suggest ways in which the videotape
"Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey" may be used to explore
some of the issues that Ralph Bunche dealt with in his life. Most
of the African American contemporaries of Ralph Bunche who had acquired
a college education, were drawn into an examination of the place
of the "Negro" and the "African" in the world.
One of the issues that preoccupied these "Negro Intellectuals"
was racism in the United States. In addition to his interest in
racism and racial discrimination in the United States, Ralph Bunche
developed a number of other intellectual interests. These included
issues like imperialism, colonialism, colonial administration, African
culture, the League of Nations Mandates system, and the United Nations
concepts and issues are relevant to a variety of disciplines such
as Anthropology (West African culture); History (Imperialism and
Colonialism, Colonial Nationalism, Decolonization); Political
Science (Colonial administration, Self-government); and International
Relations (the United Nations, trusteeship). Instructors in any
of these fields will find the videotape on Ralph Bunche to be
extremely useful, as a tool for understanding these issues. The
purpose of these notes is to explore Ralph Bunches position
on some of these issues, in the context of the intellectual currents
of the day. Each section of the notes introduces a concept of
relevance to the videotape, followed by a number of talking points,
and a short list of references.
my own teaching, I have found that the best way to introduce some
of these concepts is to ease them into conceptual discussions
with students in as comfortable a manner as possible. I suggest
the following sequence: introduction of a particular concept,
viewing or reviewing of a section of the video-tape or module
in which that concept is presented, having the students write
a short reaction exercise on the issues raised by the concept,
followed by a class discussion.
Bunche, the Negro Intellectuals and Racial Equality.
the time Bunche was in college, there was already a serious debate
among Negro intellectuals about the nature of the Black condition
in white dominated society, the causes of that condition, what
the future of Black people should be, and the strategies they
should adopt in order to achieve that future. The ideas held by
the Negro Intellectuals ranged from those who accepted as axiomatic
the superiority of European culture, and those who insisted on
the equality of Black people. The prescriptions that were advocated
ranged from the "accomodationism" of Booker T. Washington,
to the fierce Pan-negro "nationalism" of Edward Wylmot
Blyden. Ralph Bunche adopted what was essentially a centrist position
in this debate. He held the view that the concepts of the "natural
rights of man", and the "equality of peoples" were
sacred, and that they applied as much to black people as well
as to whites. However, he also believed that European culture
was much more advanced than African culture.
of the Negro Intellectuals limited their analysis of the Negro
problem to the United States, and some of them enlarged the scope
of their work to cover an analysis of the Negro problem world
wide. Like W.E.B. Du Bois, Bunche was one of those who analysed
both the condition of the Negro in America, and the condition
of the African in Africa. In his globally focused analysis, he
concluded that the problem with the Negro in the Americas was
the poverty that had been thrust on him by 300 years of chattel
slavery, and the effects of Jim-Crowism caused by racist prejudice.
In Africa, he felt that the cause of the Africans problem
was his uncivilized condition compounded by the weight of colonial
domination, exploitation and dehumanization.
Robert W. The Origins of Modern African
(New York: Praeger, 1967)
Edward W. The African Problem and the Method of Its Solution
S.O. & Ram Desai, Eds. Black Leaders of the Centuries
(Buffalo: Black Academy Press,
Bois, W.E.B. The World and Africa: 1886-1963
(New York: Viking Press, 1947)
W. Pan-Africanism: New Directions in Strategy.
Press of America, 1986)
Ralph J. The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR
of Chicago Press, 1973).
Bunche developed a systematic view of the essence of imperialism,
its causes and consequences. For Bunche there were two reasons
for the European conquest and colonization of Africa. First, the
level of capitalist development in Europe led to the creation
of a huge demand for raw materials in Europe, which could be filled
in Africa. In order to tap into this natural wealth, Europeans
exported "surplus capital" to Africa, which they used
to organize African labor for the production of commodities for
other reason was that the African countries had been weakened
by the slave trade to such an extent that they had lost the ability
to resist European aggression, especially because of the advances
that Europeans had made in the technology of warfare by the end
of the nineteenth century.
order to facilitate the plunder of Africa, the Europeans developed
an elaborate ideology "designed to mask its cruelly selfish
motives under high-sounding titles" and "to make the
exploitation of the conquered peoples more acceptable to them
"(World View, 41). This ideology known as "the civilizing
mission" is based on the notion that the European is superior,
while the African is a "docile primitive with the mind of
a child", and that the "mission of the dominant peoples
is to bring civilization to the backward peoples of the earth;
to convert them to the Christian religion and expose them to the
benefits of an advanced European culture." (World View, 41)
nature and causes of imperialism
Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
J.A. Imperialism. A Study
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965)
Francis T. France in Black Africa
(Washington, D.C.: National Defense University,
P. & W. Lewis Eds. France and Britain in Africa.
(New Haven, 1971)
Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa.
Indiana University Press,
Ralph Bunche turned his attention to analyzing the effects of
consequences of colonialism on the African people. Bunche concluded
that the characteristic pattern of imperial domination was to
impose a colonial administration. These administrations were set
up after the territory had been conquered and pacified. Their
purpose was to meet the needs of the Europeans, with little or
no regard to the welfare of the native populations.
his comparative analysis of the administrations of the colony
of Dahomey, and the mandated territory of Togo, and his research
on British colonial practices, Bunche confronted the question
of the consequences of colonial administration on indigenous African
values, culture and institutions. He was alarmed by the policy
of assimilation in which the French deliberately created an African
elite of evolues who would be isolated from the rest of the population.
On the other hand, he noted that the British policy of "indirect
rule" also has some important flaws. The most devastating
of these was the fact that although it was supposedly based on
the desire to preserve native institutions, it had the effect
of creating antagonism between the traditional authorities, and
the new elites. (French Administration, 148-161).
Bunche concluded that in spite of these differences in colonial
administration policy both colonial systems were fundamentally
exploitative. For both the British and the French the basic motive
was to make the Africans work to produce whatever commodities
they needed in Europe, and for the Europeans to make a profit.
The methods were to make the Africans work either through forced
labor, and through taxation imposed directly or by work. They
were motivated chiefly by the desire to use African labor to exploit
Africas natural resources for the aggrandizement of Europe.
in his view, in spite of the colonial propaganda, colonialism
has had a devastating effect on African peoples and African culture.
In his words, this devastation included "brutal oppression,
greedy economic exploitation forced labor, the introduction of
previously unknown diseases, vice and social degradation, leading
to great decimation of many parts of Africa and the breakdown
of African civilization." (World View, 40)
Ralph J., A World View of Race (1936). Port Washington,
New York: Kennikat Press, 1968.
Ralph J., "French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey"
(Ph.D. diss. Harvard
George. How Britain Rules Africa
(New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd, 1936)
S. H., History of French Colonial Policy, 2 vols.
(London: P. S. King, 1929)
Raymond L., The Native Problem in Africa, 2 vols.
(New York: Macmillan, 1926).
spite of his views on the pernicious effects of colonialism, Ralph
Bunche determined that the Colonial State could be used as a vehicle
for the liberation and modernization of Africa. This was in spite
of the fact that colonial governments were clearly self-serving,
exploitative and racist. As he noted himself, "The French
and the British alike are in Africa primarily for economic exploitation
and not from motives of philantrophy
Both powers intend to
retain control of their possessions and their subject population
indefinitely." (World View, 47).
the circumstances, for Bunche to advocate the idea of turning
the rapacious instrument of racist exploitation into a benevolent
instrument for the development and modernization of Africa, seems
to fly in the face of reality. First, how can such backward people
be brought into the light of civilization? Second, how can a colonial
state created by imperialism serve as a progressive instrument
of development, and modernization? In his view, this apparent
contradiction could be overcome through the transformation of
the colonial ideology of the civilizing mission, to a new one,
which would assert the equality of the African and the European.
an ideology based on the equality of European and African would
not only have been considered sheer fantasy, but it would also
have undermined the entire imperial enterprise. However, based
on his view of human equality, Bunche argued that the Africans
could be taught to achieve ultimate self-government. Bunche believed
in the equality of all human beings. However, he also accepted
the view that Africans were not yet ready to stand on their own
Bunche's way of resolving this issue brought him to the principle
of tutelage. Bunche had a deeply felt conviction that all peoples
were equal, and therefore, all human communities had a right to
self-government. Africans had the right to rule themselves. He
also felt that Africans did not have the expertise to run a modern-day
government. That is, as humans, Africans had the right to self-determination.
However, they did not have the expertise and experience to exercise
that right in a modern world. For Bunche, however, it did not
mean that their right to self-determination had lapsed. The exercise
of the right of self-determination would merely have to be postponed
until the African had developed the expertise to exercise it.
were Africans going to acquire the capacity for self-government?
Through apprenticeship. Bunche
was of the opinion that this apprenticeship will take a long time.
In his own words, "the time when the West African will be
able, in the words of the League Covenant, to stand alone
in the strenuous conditions of the modern world', is probably
many generations removed from the present day, he should be serving
an apprenticeship in the art of self-rule under the tutelage of
his immediate rulers".
Bunche realized that the apprenticeship to be served by the natives
could turn out to be a disaster. It was clear that the Colonial
powers were not in the imperial game for altruistic reasons. Furthermore,
their colonial policies were hardly examples of democratic self-rule.
The question was, how does one transform a predatory colonial
state into one that can provide guidance for self-rule, development
and modernization. Bunches answer was international accountability.
It was through this logic that Bunche arrived at the notion that
the way to liberate Africa, was through tutelage: the apprenticeship
of the native elites, and the international accountability of
point that Ralph Bunche was making is most clearly revealed in
his evaluation of colonial administrative policy. As he saw it,
a colonial policy based on the notion that the African was and
would continue to be perpetually backward, good only to be enslaved
and exploited was both analytically incorrect and morally wrong.
However, a policy, which treated the African so developed as to
be invested with the principles of liberte, fraternite and egalite
would also be analytically incorrect and morally wrong. Bunche
favored a policy based on the idea of tutelage.
Immanuel. Africa: The Politics of Independence
Rupert. From Empire to Nation
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960)
Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa.
(New York: NYU Press, 1957)
Bruce. Colonial Rule in Africa: Readings from Primary Sources.
(Ann Arbor: University
of Wisconsin Press 1979.)
key to the successful development of the African colonies towards
independence were the Native Elites. However, he was ambivalent
regarding their role in the development of the colonial territories.
As far as Bunche was concerned, the Native Elites had the potential
to be either a blessing or a curse, in the progress toward self-government.
As he noted, "the formation of the elites is at once the
most cardinal and the most debatable point in the present French
Policy". (French Administration, 95).
the one hand, the elites could be the spearhead of the agitation
for self-government. Ralph Bunche believed that the Native Elites
were already organizing for demands for self-rule. (French Administration,
392). On the other hand, the Native Elites showed a tendency to
adopt the culture of the French masters without any concern for
the rest of the natives. As he said, "the presence of an
elite group in the native community
may be a condition viciously
inimical to the best interests of the masses of the natives. (French
Administration, 97). A rift between the interests of the elites
and the interests of the masses could create violent clashes,
which would attract draconian reactions from the colonial government,
thereby retarding progress toward independence.
solution to this problem is that the colonial administration should
be based on the paced administration, which is not based on the
absolute sub-humanity of the African, or based on the immediate
equality of the African. For Bunche this was the magic formula.
Yes the African is equal, but he needed to be developed. The proper
colonial policy could do it.
a policy would "show a definite program for native development
which will lead the native toward an ultimate specific political
and social status
The only sound objective of African colonial
policies should be to prepare the African for membership in the
community of the civilized world, not as individuals but as communities."
(World View, 46-7)
change in colonial Africa
Martin. "The emergent elites of black Africa, 1900-1960"
in Peter Diugnan and
H. Gann Eds. Colonialism in Africa, 1870-1960
(Cambridge: University Press, 1970).
Leo. An African Bourgeoisie.
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
Peter. Eds. The New Elites of Tropical Africa
(London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966)
Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth
Michael. West Africa under Colonial Rule
(London: Hutchinson, 1967).
other key to the development of the colonies is International
Accountability. In Bunches view, the question was who would
make sure that this process of appretinceship would proceed as
contemplated. The obvious choice was the colonial powers. First
of all, they were already there. Secondly, they had no intention
of leaving. Thirdly, they had more experience in the administration
of colonial territories.
the other hand, it was clear that the colonial powers had their
own objectives, which was mainly to exploit these colonies. Therefore,
left to their own devices, the colonial powers did to inspire
confidence in their willingness to concentrate on the development
of these colonies, at the expense of their exploitation. Left
to their own devises, the tutelage that the colonial powers would
provide would be less than Bunche wanted.
answer is international accountability. With international supervision,
there was a chance that the more exploitative practices of the
colonial powers might be curbed, and more progressive work in
political and economic development might be encouraged.
mandates system had provided some of international supervision.
However, in the view of Bunche, it had not been enough. Furthermore
it was applied to the few ex-colonies of the defeated powers.
Nevertheless, he was convinced that the mandates system could
be improved in order to achieve that level of international accountability.
he argued for a variety of improvements, including, the application
of the trusteeship system to all colonial territories, increased
supervisory powers for the trusteeship machinery, including periodic
visits, United Nations approval of administering Authorities,
and the establishment of "independence" as the goal
of the trusteeship system.
W. The Principle of Self-Determination in International Law.
York: Nellen, 1975)
Duncan. Mandates, Dependencies and Trusteeship.
(Washington, D.C.: Carnegie
for International Peace, 1948),
David. W. Remnants of Empire: The United Nations and the End
(New York: Harper and Row, 1964)
Emile. The United Nations and Dependent Peoples.
(Washington, D.C.: The
Brookings Institution, 1956).
Benjamin. "Self-determination and Colonial Areas", International
United Nations Trusteeship System
Bunche put it "When the Charter is signed, there must be
a section on trusteeship. Not a postcript. Not a parenthesis".
Ralph Bunche had studied the Mandates system of the League of
Nations extensively for his doctoral dissertation, and also as
part of his work in connection with his appointment as a member
of the United States delegation to the United Nations Conference
on International Organization. In his judgement, the mandates
system was flawed
However, he saw it as something that could
be built on in the development of the United Nations Trusteeship
his influence in the drafting of the Charter was limited. For
instance, Bunche would have preferred the goal of "independence"
of the trusteeship system in Article 76 of the Charter to be applied
to all the colonial territories. Bunche would have preferred to
have the trust territories assigned not on the basis of the spoils
of war, but on the basis of the proposed administering powers
commitment to the principle of tutelage.
as Acting Director of the Trusteeship Division of the United Nations
Secretariat, Bunche set into motion certain procedures that set
the tone for the eventual effectiveness of the trusteeship system.
Thus Ralph Bunche should be given credit not only for helping
to establish the system of trusteeship, no matter limited; but
also for helping to create the administrative machinery to enhance
League of Nations Mandates System
Right of Self-determination of Peoples
United Nations Trusteeship System
United Nations and Decolonization
Rupert, "Colonialism, Political Development and the United
Organization, 19 (summer, 1965).
Rupert. From Empire to Nation: The rise to self-assertion
of Asian, and African
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).
Duncan. Mandates Dependencies and Trusteeship.
(Washington, D.C.: Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, 1948)
James N., The United Nations Trusteeship System.
(Urbana: University of Illinois
Roger Louis Eds. The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization
Haven: Yale University Press, 1982)
Benjamin. Ralph Bunche: The Man and his Times
(New York: Holmes
and Meier, 1990)
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