A Historiographic Remembrance of Asian-African Solidarity

Anti-racism protests breaking out across the United States post a gruesome broad-day crime resulting in George Floyd’s death gave rise to a lot of ethnic and racial communities coming together under an umbrella of solidarity to question bigger problems that should have been eradicated decades ago. Western European countries, that have a complicated history of colonial conquest, echo massively of racially discriminatory policing. Imperial colonisers have forever tried to invade what seemed opportunistically resourceful foreign lands to them, to in turn replace its original populations with their own. As surfaced by Mahmood Mamdani in a thought, known as the settler colonialism strategy, this was victorious in countries like Australia and New Zealand, although in countries like Africa this strategy was defeated.

Let us recognise an age-old partnership, that of the Asian-African community supporting each other unconditionally, in retrospect against neo-imperialism and colonialism, united today yet again in a fight against the centuries-old institutionalised systemic racism that haunts majoritarian societies. The political palpability of solidarity in a shared understanding of racial injustice is amply demonstrative. As the identities of the officers who were involved in the George Floyd case were revealed, one of them - Tou Thao, belonging to the Asian-American community, led to a comprehensive narrative around the toxic anti-Black thoughts encircling within Asian communities. The long myth that has been perpetuated within the United States alongside the matter is that Asians occupy most space amongst all the American minority groups. This has escalated obvious differences between the two communities reclaiming their identities by trying to endow their own distinctiveness as part of a subculture. However, a refreshing front is projected in one of the Washington protests by Viet Hoai Tran, “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” (‘yellow peril’ being a racial slur articulating a Western fear of East Asians takeover of ‘their’ land). It is reflective of a sense of repurposing within Asian-American solidarity with the African community.

This alliance of two widely intertwined communities dates back to the Bandung Conference (Konferensi Asia Afrika) established in 1955. The Bandung spirit was absorbed into the Pan-African movement that reinforced opportunities for national interest pursuits, affirmed colonial geographies and economies, and amplified the intensification of inter-community solidarity. The tone for the Conference was actually set by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru almost a decade earlier, as he mentioned a responsibility on the Indian shoulders for the people of Africa in a speech given at the Asian Relations Organisation in 1947. Indonesian President Sukarno was equally interested in building a third segue of solidarity amidst the massive polarisation in the Cold War. The subsequent formation of the Non-Aligned Movement was a symbol of postcolonial states’ independence from Western imperialism and anti-colonialism. It was a celebration of unlearning Western oppression and embracing native identities. This was a spectacle within the global institutional space not just for decolonisation, but also for paving a way for comprehensively irrefutable foreign policy strategies. Thus, marking a historic path of journey propagating a sense of shared transnational solidarity with respect to overcoming feats as shared experiences amidst minority groups. Nothing could deliver justice to the alliance better than the words of Rachel Leow, who said that Bandung became, “Easy metonymy: Bandung the place, Bandung the spirit—Bandung the moment, Bandung the history. Anti-colonialism and transnational solidarity were all theatrical parts: Bandung was the diplomatic debut of newly decolonized peoples on a bipolar world stage, full of agency and vigour.”

There was a landmark meeting held in Cairo in 1958 celebrating the first Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Conference (AAPSO) dubbed as the ‘Peoples’ Bandung’. Cairo had started developing into a ‘Third World capital’ due to its transcontinental geopolitical disposition and hosted this politically productive translocal solidarity generating space with representatives from forty-six countries. The Association’s establishment challenged the conventional wisdom on mutually exclusive African and Asian nationalist loyalties. The Association’s community grew suddenly post Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in July 1956. It supremely fulfilled further functions, enabled effective communications, allowed the exchanging of skills and moral support, escaped colonial authorities’ restrictions on the movement, and broadened networks. It afforded African activists the valuable space they needed amidst Egyptian media, disseminating multiculturalism. Furthermore, the Association’s political sentiments were expressed through newer manifestations. An important connection with Cairo Radio resulted in nascent broadcasts in Amharic, Sudanese dialects and Swahili by July 1954. These forged networks proved to be influential in propagating Afro-Asian agendas simultaneously. Nasser emphasised on liberation for the Arab Maghreb and Palestine in Bandung and had been echoed by Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan delegates who were being hosted as political exiles in Cairo. This influence was enhanced at the 1957 Afro-Asian Conference by the African delegates who were also now residents in Cairo. From 1973 to 1980, the Association was transformed into a cultural and intellectual hub renamed as the African Society engaging majorly with the African Association of Political Science in Dar Es-Salam.

Theorised by Indian historian Vijay Prashad, in Afro-Dalits of the Earth, Unite!, the polycultural identity seeking approach to collate and devolve oppressive experiences is called “epidermal determinism”, entrenching solidarity relations on the basis of skin colour. There was a time when Black slaves were emancipated in the Caribbean, North America, and South Africa, and Asian labour was brought to work replacing the shell of the former slaves perpetuating the racial strata of labour as mirrored in Trinidad and Guayana. Taking note of these historical linkages is important to track the unrelenting struggle against universal racism. Runoko Rashidi and V T Rajshekar are two scholars who provide alternate approaches to African-Indian interconnections and allyship, instigating a bond true enough to stir calls for Dalit discrimination in India. This is a power-packed supplemented activism inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that has voiced concerns of racial differences, class discriminations, oppressive communities, and has meant unforeseen strength for minority groups across the globe. Such is the powerful impact.

Unfortunately because of the growing Cold War tensions around the globe, the unprecedented new world order of African-Asian solidarity and other sociopolitical internationalist breakthroughs that wavered into a world full of decolonial possibilities were never given their due credit for overcoming unfathomable adversities. Nevertheless, the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic saw an outburst in the hate spree against Asians, and exposed the structurally engraved African discrimination, reminding us that this long-drawn battle is an exacerbation of deeply rooted systemic racism that we need to combat together as communities for as long as it takes. The fight is being grappled with since generations of humanity, and we need to strive for a world that only gets better with every passing day.


Saachi Gupta Ghosh

A keen Journalism undergraduate from Delhi University, continually striving to learn and explore. I like to read, write, and contribute to the society in a way that leaves a profound and lasting impression. Provoke thought, and incite change!

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