Decolonization and Trusteeship
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 Trusteeship system.

These 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 Bunche’s 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.

In 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.

Ralph Bunche, the Negro Intellectuals and Racial Equality.

By 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.

Some 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 African’s problem was his uncivilized condition compounded by the weight of colonial domination, exploitation and dehumanization.

Talking Points

African-American Political Thought

"Negro Intellectuals"

Accommodationism, assimilationism integrationsimn

African-American nationalism, Pan-Africanism

Racial equality


July Robert W. The Origins of Modern African
(New York: Praeger, 1967)

Blyden, Edward W. The African Problem and the Method of Its Solution

Mezu, S.O. & Ram Desai, Eds. Black Leaders of the Centuries
(Buffalo: Black Academy
Press, 1970)

Du Bois, W.E.B. The World and Africa: 1886-1963
(New York: Viking Press, 1947)

Ofuatey-Kodjoe, W. Pan-Africanism: New Directions in Strategy.
Univ. Press of America, 1986)

Bunche, Ralph J. The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR
University of Chicago Press, 1973).

Imperialism and Colonialism

Ralph 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 Europe.

The 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.

In 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)

Talking Points

The nature and causes of imperialism

"The civilizing mission"


Indirect rule


Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
(London, 1972)

Hobson, J.A. Imperialism. A Study
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965)

McNamara, Francis T. France in Black Africa
(Washington, D.C.: National Defense
University, 1989)

Gifford P. & W. Lewis Eds. France and Britain in Africa.
(New Haven, 1971)

Freund, Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa.
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).


Colonial Administration

Next, 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.

In 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).

Finally, 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 Africa’s natural resources for the aggrandizement of Europe.

Therefore, 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)

Talking Points

Colonial administration

Indirect rule

The color line

Colonial unrest


Bunche, Ralph J., A World View of Race (1936). Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1968.

Bunche, Ralph J., "French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey"
(Ph.D. diss.
Harvard University, 1934)

Padmore, George. How Britain Rules Africa
(New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd, 1936)

Roberts, S. H., History of French Colonial Policy, 2 vols.
(London: P. S. King, 1929)

Buell, Raymond L., The Native Problem in Africa, 2 vols.
(New York: Macmillan, 1926).


African Liberation

In 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).

Under 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.

Clearly, 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 feet.

Ralph 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.

How 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".

However, 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. Bunche’s 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 colonial administration.

The 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.

Talking Points

Colonial development

Principle of self-determination


The native elites


Wallerstein, Immanuel. Africa: The Politics of Independence

Emerson, Rupert. From Empire to Nation
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960)

Thomas Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa.
(New York: NYU Press, 1957)

Fetter, Bruce. Colonial Rule in Africa: Readings from Primary Sources.
(Ann Arbor:
University of Wisconsin Press 1979.)

The Native Elites

One 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).

On 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.

His 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.

Such 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)

Talking Points

The native elites

Social change in colonial Africa

Colonial masses


Kilson, Martin. "The emergent elites of black Africa, 1900-1960" in Peter Diugnan and

L. H. Gann Eds. Colonialism in Africa, 1870-1960
(Cambridge: University Press, 1970).

Kuper Leo. An African Bourgeoisie.
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)

Lloyd, Peter. Eds. The New Elites of Tropical Africa
(London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966)

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth

Crowder, Michael. West Africa under Colonial Rule
(London: Hutchinson, 1967).


International Accountability

The other key to the development of the colonies is International Accountability. In Bunche’s 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.

On 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Therefore, 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.

Talking Points


Trusteeship principle



Ofuatey-Kodjoe, W. The Principle of Self-Determination in International Law.
(New York: Nellen, 1975)

Hall, Duncan. Mandates, Dependencies and Trusteeship.
(Washington, D.C.:
Carnegie for International Peace, 1948),

Wainhouse, David. W. Remnants of Empire: The United Nations and the End of Colonialism
(New York: Harper and Row, 1964)

Sady Emile. The United Nations and Dependent Peoples.
(Washington, D.C.:
The Brookings Institution, 1956).

Rivlin Benjamin. "Self-determination and Colonial Areas", International Conciliation, no. 501
(January 1955).


The United Nations Trusteeship System

As 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 system.

Unfortunately, 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 power’s commitment to the principle of tutelage.

Nevertheless, 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 its effectiveness.

Talking Points

The League of Nations Mandates System

The Right of Self-determination of Peoples

The United Nations Trusteeship System

The United Nations and Decolonization


Emerson, Rupert, "Colonialism, Political Development and the United Nations" International Organization, 19 (summer, 1965).

Emerson, Rupert. From Empire to Nation: The rise to self-assertion of Asian, and African Peoples.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

Hall, Duncan. Mandates Dependencies and Trusteeship.
(Washington, D.C.:
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1948)

Murray, James N., The United Nations Trusteeship System.
(Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1957).

William, Roger Louis Eds. The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization 1940-1960.
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982)

Rivlin, Benjamin. Ralph Bunche: The Man and his Times
(New York:
Holmes and Meier, 1990)