In today’s Finshots, we tell you why the term Global South is gaining popularity.
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Every second headline today seems to have the phrase “Global South”.
Here’s one in the HinduBusinessline on Monday: “India’s G20 Presidency strove to mainstream the concerns and aspirations of the Global South, says FM Sitharaman”
Time published this five days ago: “The West Is Losing the Global South Over Gaza”
And here’s another from The Economist from three weeks ago: “Xi Jinping wants to be loved by the global south”
Everyone’s talking about the ‘Global South’ and it will probably end up being the geopolitical phrase of this decade. So we thought, why not delve into what exactly this Global South means? And why is the term gaining so much prominence today?
Well, the origin of the term itself comes from quite unexpected quarters. In the 1960s, the US was in war in Vietnam. It wasn’t America’s war to begin with but they waded in because they were afraid a Communist regime was shaping up in the region. Not just in Vietnam but its neighbours too. Naturally, a lot of Americans weren’t pleased with the war. Especially the left-leaning folks. And in 1969, Carl Oglesby, a writer and a political activist, penned a column which gave birth to the term. He wrote, “the North’s dominance over the global South . . . [has] converged . . . to produce an intolerable social order.” He was referring to how certain countries were lording over others to create a world order that suited them.
But who’s the North and who’s the South, you ask?
Let’s think about it this way. Take a map and imagine how the world economic order looked like a few decades ago. Where are the richer countries with a higher standard of living? And where are the poorer regions that probably suffer from higher rates of poverty and hunger?
Now try and draw a line trying to divide the countries into the haves and have-nots. You will probably find that your line buckets most of the well-to-do nations in the Northern Hemisphere and the others in the Southern Hemisphere. Well, that’s the North-South divide. And we told you to draw a line for a reason. Because that’s exactly what a former West German chancellor named Willy Brandt did in the 1980s. He drew a similar line for a report he was writing on international affairs. And it came to be called the Brandt Line.
Of course, you could argue that this was a lazy categorization since relatively poorer Eastern European regions were in the North and countries like Australia and New Zealand were in the South. But the Brandt line was quite curvaceous that way. Take a look at the cover image of the story again.
And it was an easy categorisation nonetheless. A simple thumb rule that everyone could understand. So while Oglesby might’ve coined it, it’s Brandt’s Line which brought it into geography books.
But even then, the term didn’t immediately catch on. Economic pundits and political commentators weren’t using it. The media didn’t carry headlines with this phrase either. And that’s because, for a long time, there was another phrase to describe the poorer countries — the “Third World”. Now initially, there was nothing negative about the Third World. It was just a way to split the world into 3 bits. The First World was the superpower US and its Western Allies. The Second World was the other superpower Soviet Union and its communist friends. And the Third World was simply other nations who didn’t want to side with either of these two power blocs. But after the Soviet Union collapsed, people in the West began to use the Third World in quite a derogatory manner. To try and imply that this set of countries suffered from poverty, corrupt governments, and a poor quality of life. Soon, the term began to be considered a pejorative.
So there emerged another phrase — ‘developing countries’.
This doesn’t seem too bad, does it? It simply denoted that they were a group of countries that were striving to reach the next economic strata. And initially, everyone was happy with this term. But then, people began to point out that it created a hierarchy among countries. That this implied one country was better than the others based on some vanity metric.
So we had to find a new term again. And in the 2010s, the term Global South slowly began to catch on again. And you can see in the chart how the usage of the terms ‘Global South,’ Third World,‘ and ‘Developing countries’ in English language sources have changed over the past few decades.
Source: The Conversation
So who’s part of this Global South now, you ask?
Well, the first thing to remember is that it isn’t really an organisation. It’s just a grouping. So some folks simply look at the members of the G77 to determine who’s part of this. It’s a coalition of countries at the United Nations which now has 134 members — including India, China, and Nigeria. These are what you’d call the “developing” countries. And this group has taken to calling themselves the Global South.
That’s the group that India wooed with its “Voice of Global South” Summit earlier this year too.
Now experts say that there are a few reasons why these countries have been joining hands.
For starters, there’s the colonial hangover. Most of these countries have a shared history of European colonial rule. They’ve been beaten down in the past. They’ve been stripped of their resources and reduced to poverty. So there’s a mutual feeling of being oppressed.
And this oppression has continued in some form or another on the international stage too. They haven’t been given sufficient representation in international institutions. Whenever they’ve had to borrow money from international entities, it has come with a long list of strings attached. And this has made them even more vulnerable. For instance, 95% of Nigeria’s revenues go towards repaying all its debt. And many other countries are struggling too.
Then there’s the more recent problem of climate change. See, developed countries have gone through their industrialization phase. They’ve emitted all the harmful gases they could to get ahead in the world. Just look at the data between 1751 and 2017 — a whopping 47% of the CO2 emissions came from the US, EU and the UK. Africa and South America put together only accounted for 6%! But now that it’s time for the developing countries to grow faster and increase energy consumption in the process, the West wants to sound the alarm and ask everyone else to reduce emissions.
Also, when the pandemic ravaged the world, the rich countries were busy providing booster doses for their citizens even as the WHO urged them to give priority to countries which didn’t even have access to the vaccines. It created an even bigger sense of inequality.
And most recently, look at the war in Ukraine. The West pledged $170 billion in aid to Ukraine in the first year of the year. This was almost as much as the entire global aid package in 2021. So it simply created a situation in which the poorer countries were led to believe that rich countries would donate but only if it was in their interest.
Slowly, these countries have become tired of toeing the line of the West. They banded together to stand up for themselves against the Western hegemony. Just look at how India recently pushed for the introduction of the African Union into the G20 league. They’re pushing for a seat at the table.
And they’ve wholeheartedly embraced the ‘Global South’ terminology to signify that. Because as former Chilean Ambassador Jorge Hein wrote: “…whereas the terms “Third World” and “underdeveloped” convey images of economic powerlessness, that isn’t true of the “Global South.”
Now we just have to wait and see how this Global South can further push their economic and trade agenda on the world stage.
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