She's so sexy every man's fantasy, a refugee like me back with the Fugees, from a 3rd world country
These words, sung by Wyclef Jean, come from Shakira's monster hit "Hips don't lie". Could you imagine him saying "She's so sexy every man's fantasy a refugee like me back with the Fugees from a developing world country "? Not really... From a gender perspective, or from a purely poetical Shakira's lyrics are horrible, after all I found the lyrics on moron.nl. But the qoute illustrates something important -
the difference in the concepts "thirld world" and "developing world".
By referring to the thirld world, Jean sends a message saying "in Haiti we don't have the money you have in the US or Sweden, but we do know how to dance". However much he objectifies the woman of his desire, he subjectifies the thirld world - a place which is different from the first world, with its own way of life, demanding to be respected on its own terms.
"The developing world" implies something different. Anyone familiar with Adam Smith can see that the way we use the word development is almost synonymous to the way he uses improvement. Developed is good. Developing is less good. Calling Haiti a developing world country is liek saying that it is like Sweden but poorer, with more unemployed and less hospitals. And without ABBA.
Shakira statue in Barranquilla. Picture by Wikipedia Commons
I might be over-interpreting Wyclef Jean 's rhymes here, but I am anyway way too stiff to dedicate a full blog post to Shakira. In stead I will write about a book I have spent the better part of the last month reading - The Darker Nations. A People's History of the Thirld World by Vijay Prashad.
It was an interesting read, in spite of a tiresome prose. To be honest, I was somehow shocked by the
stark left wing perspective
- something that one seldom sees in debates these days. Especially in texts coming from teachers at American Tier 1 Universities. Prashad is Professor of International Studies and holds the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History at the Trinity College, Connecticut.
Tiresome prose is endemic in modern left wing writing, and moreover I find Prashad's way to deal with socialistic authoritarian regimes a little disturbing. The Soviet Union is mentioned as one great power which was slightly more open for cooperating with the thirld world than the US was. That is not the full story, but it might be excused given that this book does not set out to tell the history of the Soviet Union, but of the Darker Nations, as Prashad calls the nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
When it comes to current socialistic states, like Cuba and Venezuela, the problem is more what Prashad does not say. He avoids any critical discussion of the two countries, and mention them only in contexts when they stand out as good examples. Cuba does have an impressive school system, but it deals with dissidents in a shameful way. I am aware that there is much to say about Cuba, and probably even more about Venezuela. The problem is not Prashad's opinion but the fact that he avoids the discussion.
But as blind as the left wing often is for socialist errors, as clear sighted it is about capitalism. It is also true about right wing writers that they are very good at understanding totalitarian socialist societies, but have a limited understanding of life in a capitalist society.
The book's greatest achievement is probably that it reminds us about the Thirld World project and all the histories that were buried with it. Like the pivotal role that women and women's groups played. The project is dead today but it was nontheless a historic reality. This is a history of the losers, a fact that makes it more attractive as a book. The concept "the thirld world" lives on, at least in Swedish, but the meaning has changed. To most Swedes today it simply means the poor countries.
It is easy to forget that this name, unlike so many others, was not a term invented in the rich parts of the world.
The concept of the Thirld world emerged in the struggle for independence from European colonialism
between the world wars, and was coined at the Bandung conference in 1955. It was a term to describe a movement of very inconsistent political forces, mainly nationalists and communists, whose aim was to make the former colonies less dependent on their former masters. It spanned over continents and religions, and was a meeting point for countries as diverse as Sudan, Singapore, Brazil and India.
That was not so impressive as it sounds today - Prashad is keen to show that religion played a very minor part in the initial thirld world project, which pledged to be internationalistic, modernistic and democratic. Democracy was often more of an election promise than a reality, but the kind of religious communitariansm we see today, that tends to spill over in violence, did not exist before the great wave of IMF led liberalisation, when power holders introduced religion and tribalism as a way to legitimize themselves. This analysis is Prashad's tour the force, where his knowledge about South Asia shines through the text.
Few things have gone in the right direction since the second world war.
Whereas a few very large countries like Brazil, India and China have managed to challenge the westen hegemony, most countries in the thirld world are more invisible today than they were in the fifties andd sixties. Many Swedes know who Kwame Nkumrah, Ghana's first president, was. Very few have heard the name of John Atta Millis, Ghanas incumbent president. This might be changing, but not with any revolutionary speed. No matter how good we blog at Th!nk 3, I wouldn't be surprised if my children will have to blog about the same topics. Most of the issues we deal with here - malaria, education for girls and hunger, are the same questions that my dad was writing about in his teens.
Reading Prahad's book with the tragic development in Thailand as a backdrop illustrated his dismal conclusions.
Prashad descibes a globalized world where some people get very rich, many get very poor, and the vast majority work ever harder to eek out a living while dreaming of a better tomorrow that never comes. It is a world where anger is still present, but the political ways to deal with it are forbidden.
Vijay Prashad. Picture by Food for thought books
And isn't this what we see whenever we turn on our TV's or open a news website? A growing entangled mess of conflicts without solutions and wars that no one can win. Like the US in Afghhanistan. Or the Indian governments fight against the Maoist rebels. No one thinks that these ragged rebels will defeat the US- or the Indian Army. But if these wars could be won, the US and India would have stopped fighting years ago.
The situation in Bangkok looks similar. It was obvious that the Red shirts could not defeat the army in battle. But if the government and army had any chance to defeat their opponents, the red shirts would not have been there in the first place. Whatever happens now, they will be there again. Tomorrow, next week or next year. All the Thai state has done is shuffle them away, but that doesn't solve the problem. And by closing down TV stations and internet while doing it, they have shown a respect for free speech that we know from Moldova and Iran.
Maybe the problem in Thailand is exactly what Prashad describes in his second last chapter, called Singapore. All the chapters are named after cities, and Singapore represents all those countries who have shown an impressive economic growth - Singapore, Taiwan, China and Thailand and others. But this growth is illusionary, according to Prashad, since the kind of capitalism that Singapore represents only occupies itself with trading, and leave the idustrial production to vast hinterlands, whose misery is a none-issue.
For Singapore this is easy, since Singapore itself is only the citiy. The disgruntled workers live abroad, and do not need to be listened to. Bangkok's problem is that it is in Thailand. Many Thai people have come to live lives that they parents could only dream of, but they have to share political influence witht the rural masses who have earned nothing from the development, who have only lost their voice. Prashad describes how cities like Bangkok have started to live a life of their own, and I think this is a very true notion.
Who can solve this riddle?
Is there anyone in Bangkok who can speak for the poor in the countryside? And is there anyone i the countryside who can speak for Bangkok? I don't know. But the Thai government we've seen in the streets this week is a part of the problem, not the solution. This question is not only about Thailand, it is about the entire world. It s about feeding the hungry, but also about letting avery human voice be heard. Prashad is gloomy, but as a historian he should be. If a better world is possible, it is all up to us.