‘Third World’, a derogatory or sophisticated term??


Cameroon  Can we change the way development is usually perceived or  participate in promoting adequate terminologies that resemble the reality of ‘Less Economically developed Nations’ and ‘Newly Industrialized ones’? The dominant interpretation of the term Third World is linked to socioeconomic factors, which directly interlocks with underdevelopment. Generally, it means poor, underdeveloped countries with an unsatisfactory quality of life. However, this notion of Third World was accurate just right after World War two, during the period of decolonization which swept the old colonial ‘masters’ away.

Within the global academia narrative in general and western academia in particular, the term qualifies as a spatial and geographical concept since the specific regions and countries underlie it. Nevertheless, its spatial dimension is unusually interesting because of its controversy and its often one dimensional analysis. Today, it is with no doubt that  the term ‘Third World’  still remain a conveyor of certain ideas, illusions, meanings, hopes and emotions. It is important to remember that, even though the term remain a terrain of deep analysis without a clear defining end, various entities (scholars, journalists,..) have used it loosely, whereby perpetuating a linear analysis.

I will not exaggerate when I say that the term has lost its original purpose. For many years now, journalists, scientist, economists, scholars, and actors of the political scene have used the term in linkage to social, political and economic factors. What does individuals, mostly students think of the term Third World countries? I asked this question to a friend of mine. For privacy issue, I will name him/her George. George mainly thought of countries parts of the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia. George attempt to describe Third World countries equated to the Global South. “When did the the term came to be?” I asked George; ” years, years ago” was his response. The logic behind this classification from George emanates from the position of the Capitalist world (First World) as well as the Soviet Union (Second World) in the 1950’s during the Cold war. The ‘Third word’  appeared thus as the epicenter of the failure to follow the global pattern of emancipation and growth. Following this narrative, countries of the Global South were then perceived as a failure, which overtime have become an exotic space to the First World and Second World governance.

The so called Third World became then a magnet of overflowing international assistance to ensure its development. It became a ground of various economic policy tests. It became a space that needed to be fixed to resemble the West. Things have tremendously changed today. The world looks very different. Wealthy and poorer nations alike now fall on either side of the spectrum. Economic development in many part of Asia, Africa and Latin America has skyrocketed over the past years. Countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, South Korea, Singapore, Brasil, Botswana, Seychelles and many others show an increase of income and a better standard of living comparable to some developed countries. Countries like Brazil, China and India have become regionally and globally powerful.

I believe that our present era is deeply embedded within a global fabric that we tend to embrace a trend of historical characteristics to make sense of the unbalance level of development across the globe or within countries ( two great examples can be South Africa and Rwanda) such as poverty, debt, weak institutions, virulent inequality and constant corruption along with development theories to solve the problems. It is true that individual countries, based on an historical context has struggle to accommodate the need of the population. However, this approach of comprehending the problematic of  the ‘Third World’ reinforces the negative stereotypes of those nations, while portraying  the area as a collections of places and individuals in constant need of western intervention. It puts in the shade the beauty and undergoing development of these countries ( more or less according to western narrative).  I think, it is important to remember the multidimensional factors that contributes to the development of countries of the ‘Third World’.

What do you believe is the right word to be used? George asked me after a long conversation. I believe when talking about development it is very difficult not to compare regions and countries. A country is developed in comparison to another. Based on this analogy, I see three  categorizations. The More Economically developed nations, the Newly industrialized Nations and the Less economically developed Nations. My categorization are economically classified. In a broader sense, what development might be for one, might be something else for another ( Bhutan uses happiness to measure its development progress rather than the level of consumption).

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