Academic journal article Humanity

"Under the Aegis of Man": The Right to Development and the Origins of the New International Economic Order

Academic journal article Humanity

"Under the Aegis of Man": The Right to Development and the Origins of the New International Economic Order

Article excerpt

On September 23, 1966, the Senegalese foreign minister Doudou Thiam gave an impassioned speech to fellow delegates assembled in New York for the opening of the 21st Session of the United Nations General Assembly.1 It began as a reflection on the preceding twenty years of UN history. Despite some modest progress that the UN had achieved in meeting its three primary objectives-the maintenance of peace; the liberation of colonized peoples; and the economic and social development of mankind-this period was more notably exemplified by failures and setbacks: the war in Southeast Asia; the failure of decolonization in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa; and the failure to meet the goals of the UN's first "Development Decade."2

It was on this third point that Thiam ruminated for the remainder of his speech. The achievement of political and legal sovereignty by newly decolonized states did not resolve the existing imbalance of power between the developing and developed worlds. Thiam cited growing inequality in the share of global income between developed and underdeveloped countries: in 1938, the income disparity was 15:1; by 1966 it was 35:1, and projected to be 40:1 by 2000.

Thiam insisted that this phenomenon of underdevelopment was not determined by geography or race; it was mobile, moving about in time and space. Western prosperity vis-à-vis the Middle East, India, and China was historically recent, and the socalled poor nations were not as poor as they were said to be: in 1963 they held 50 percent of the world's petroleum, nearly half the copper and manganese ore, and 70 percent of the world's diamonds. The same was true of their share of agricultural commodities.

The problem, Thiam argued, lay in the inequitable international division of labor and deterioration in the terms of trade since 1950. In the postwar global economy, the underdeveloped countries had taken on the role of producers of raw materials and importers of finished goods: "In theory, the old colonial pact was doubtlessly abolished at the end of the last century, but in practice it has been maintained for a long time . . . An actual pillage of the developing countries has been organized on a worldwide scale."3

Thiam called upon developing countries to act: the time had come to organize an "economic Bandung Conference"-a reference to the 1955 Afro-Asian summit that exemplified a newly emerging spirit of postcolonial unity and solidarity. The last part of Thiam's speech is worth reproducing in its entirety, for it introduced a novel and revolutionary concept:

What is our task? We must lay the foundations for a new world society; we must bring about a new revolution; we must tear down all the practices, institutions and rules on which international economic relations are based, in so far as these practices, institutions and rules sanction injustice and exploitation and maintain the unjustified domination of a minority over the majority of men. Not only must we reaffirm our right to development, be we must also take the steps which will enable this right to become a reality. We must build a new system, based not only on the theoretical affirmation of the sacred rights of peoples and nations but on the actual enjoyment of these rights. The right of peoples to self-determination, the sovereign equality of peoples, international solidarity-all these will remain empty words, and, forgive me for saying so, hypocritical words, until relations between nations are viewed in the light of economic and social facts. From this point of view, the facts contradict the principles. The new world vision which the Charter of the United Nations held out to us is still only a vision. It has not yet become an international reality. The economic Bandung Conference that we are proposing should enable us to formulate a new world economic charter. We shall attend, not in order to present a list of complaints, but to demand and claim what is ours, or, more precisely, what is due to man, whatever his nationality, his race or his religion. …

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