Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche and the Decolonization of Africa*
Ralph J. Bunche was a key figure in planning the international trusteeship system that paved the way for the decolonization process following the Second World War. This momentous change sounded the death-knell of empire and imperialism. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of another individual whose role exceeded or even equalled that of Bunche's in terms of meeting the challenges of postwar decolonization as well as the is-sues of international security and peace.
Starting from his position as head of the Africa Section in the Research and Analysis Branch with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1941-1942, then continuing with his position with the planning group of U. S. State Department working on the future of the colonial world, to his critical role in the drafting of the United Nations Charter (Chap-ters XI, XII and XIII) dealing with colonial territories, and, culminating with his position as head of the United Nations Secretariat in charge of the Trusteeship Department and his position as UN Undersecretary General in charge of peacekeeping—Bunche's career re-capitulates as well as provides a veritable roadmap of the "great and worldwide change in international relations" that was ushered in by the postwar decolonization process. From the vantage point of his role with the United Nations, Bunche occupied a rather special seat at the table of power.
In conjunction with and as part of UCLA's yearlong celebration of the centenary of Ralph Bunche's life, the Marcus Garvey Papers Project and the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa are taking the lead in organizing a major international conference under the auspices of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center that will focus on the life and significance of Ralph Bunche, with specific reference to Bunche's role in African decolo-nization.
The conference will be held here at UCLA, June 3-5, 2004 and is entitled:
The target audience will not only be the UCLA community, but also interested individu-als from the regional community at large. In addition to recognizing and evaluating the critical importance of Ralph Bunche as a key architect and theoretician of the decoloniz-ing process, the aim of the conference will be to re-examine the process of Africa's de-colonization taken as a whole. In addition, the conference will aim at evaluating the sig-nificant role of America and, specifically, African Americans, in spearheading the de-mand for African independence. Taken together, the conference will attempt to provide a scholarly balance sheet for understanding the history of post-independence Africa. It is anticipated that the papers presented at the conference will be published as an edited vol-ume under the auspices of the African Studies Center.
May 21, 2003
* Ralph J. Bunche, "U.N.—Trustee for the Human Community," in Robert Cousins, ed., The Will To Think: A Treasury of Ideas and Ideals from the Pages of Think (New York, 1957).
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Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2004
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