Semantic Debates Are a Distraction From the Global South’s Demands

Semantic Debates Are a Distraction From the Global South’s Demands
Barbadan Prime Minister Mia Mottley takes part in an event during this year’s Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in Washington, April 18, 2024 (DPA photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka via AP Images).

Last Month, at an event on the margins of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s Spring Meetings, Barbadan Prime Minister Mia Mottley and representatives from Bangladesh, Brazil and Ghana discussed the thorny issue of mobilizing capital for the Vulnerable Twenty Group, or V20, “a dedicated cooperation initiative of economies systemically vulnerable to climate change.” During the event, the three V20 countries—Brazil is not a member—outlined their national prosperity plans and urged the international financing institutions and private sector to work with them to unlock financing to support their populations’ and countries’ development and security.

As usual, Mottley brilliantly demonstrated her leadership on these issues. She not only made clear how the international financial architecture in its current form is unfit to meet her country and its population’s needs, but also emphasized how this issue is not solely one confronting small-island or low-income states. Moreover, she called out Washington’s “orthodoxy” and its failure to “see people.” This orthodoxy is by and large explained by the underrepresentation of alternative voices in the city’s corridors of power. As she stressed, the international policy sector at large needs more representation to ensure not only that various perspectives are factored in, but also that expertise is available to develop tailored policies and programs.

These are precisely some of the primary issues that underlie how the concept of “the Global South” was leveraged, at least when it started entering the lexicon in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over the past year, as it has become increasingly en vogue but also at times disparaged, I have addressed the misconceptions about the concept to argue why, in the absence of a better alternative to existing terms such as “developing countries,” “the Third World” and “the Non-Aligned Movement,” the Global South was a useful label for countries that are advocating for change in the global order. It underscores the need for an equitable world order, while encouraging greater cooperation both among countries of the Global South and between those countries and their Western counterparts. But these issues have been highjacked by the semantic debate around the label, which has been used by many as an opportunity to dismiss the calls for change that give it meaning.  

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