Global Politics of Unequal Development: Revisiting the North-South Divide

When an Englishman wants something, George Bernard Shaw observes, he never admits to himself of wanting it. Instead his will is expressed as a burning conviction that it is his moral and religious duty to conquer those possessing what he wants. Then he conquers half the world and calls it Colonization. When he wants a new market for his adulterated Manchester goods, he sends a missionary to teach the natives the gospel of peace. The natives kill the missionary: he flies to arms in defense of Christianity; fights for it and conquers it; and takes the market as a reward from heaven. You will never find an Englishman in the wrong.


In the 1980s, the Brandt Line model showcased a novel geographical perspective of the world, as it showed how the world was divided into two halves; the relatively richer and poorer nations. According to this model, almost all of the richer countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere. Contrastingly, the relatively poorer countries are all located in the tropical regions of the Southern Hemisphere.

Despite the significant development gains achieved globally due to globalization and industrialisation, lifting millions out of absolute poverty, there is substantial evidence to believe that the inequality between the richest and the poorest countries is widening.

As per an Oxfam report, the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the half poorest of the world, with the richest 1 percent grabbing nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population.

As the world is marred in multifaceted systemic risks and crises, the western political leadership deems the North-South framework an obsolete cause and find it irrational to argue in terms of North-South divide. Although new ways of reassessing the geopolitical relations have emerged, the historic injustices stemming out of decades of colonization cannot be erased. The revolutionary economic ascent of the countries in the South has been impeccable and undeniable, as they’re often claimed to be ‘catching up’ with the Global North countries.

However, the catching up solely depends upon one’s unit of measure. As a French methodologist aptly emphasized the political and cultural roots that ground the power of the West; unparalleled cohesion, the tact to present its ideas as the promotion of general interests of all nations and humanity, training the elite of the planet and leading scientific and technological innovations. In all of the aforesaid realms, the Global South is slower to catch up than its GDP.

North’s economic appropriation of the Global South

The advanced developed economies of the North have relied intensively on economic appropriation of the Global South through drain of valuable resources and cheap labor, including exploited raw materials, land use and energy. A massive proportion of South’s resources and labor are organized in the servicing of capital accumulation in the North, resultantly being deficient to meet the human needs of education, healthcare, nutrition as they’re used to produce fast fashion and fancy gadgets for the richer countries. These mechanisms perpetuate long-standing cycles of deprivation and inequality in the South while propping up the wealth, income and consumption levels of the countries in the North.

This highlights the fact that the phenomenon of ‘developing or Third World’  countries being attributed to the countries in the South has less to do with access to resources and levels of production but entirely to with the fact that countries in the South have been under-represented and integrated into the global financial system on fundamentally unequal terms.

Revisiting facts from the colonial era recollects the often faded reality that the European countries grew richer and more industrialized at South’s backbone vis a vis the forced extraction of resources,raw materials and labor from the global South. The imperialist European settler colonies were able to exercise their dominance and leverage to cheapen the prices of goods in the South whilst simultaneously heavily taxing the colonized.

Unequal Economic Governance:

The tale of deprivation has still continues to this day with the imperialist ambitions now being disguised as the ‘neoliberal’ policies and being presented as a new model of development to the world. The North has hegemonic dominance within all International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and organizations such as World Trade Organization (WTO). Northern states hold a majority of the votes in the IMF and World Bank that gives them direct access to mould the global financial mechanisms and economic policy decisions. In the WTO, the bargaining power is determined by the market size, which enables only high income developed states to be in decision and policy making levels and set the rules in their own interests.

The dominant narrative prevalent in academic and political discussion on North South divide is that the South is poor and deprived due to their own shortcomings and internal failings, not taking into account the structural inequalities set up to obstruct their integration into the world economy. Along the same logic, global poverty is suggested to be alleviated via increased globalization, when in reality globalization has siphoned away the resources and knowledge of the poor into the global marketplace. In truth, there is gross imbalance between the negotiating and bargaining capacities between the North and South due to the lack of representation of the latter and over-representation of neoliberal interests on the former.

The disconnect between North-South development cooperation

In development cooperation, the size and needs of each country, community varies massively in terms of their socio-economic development. We are far from bridging the gap between these inequalities. The North-South Cooperation models are built around the domestic agenda of the developed country also known as the donor country then further applied to the receiving country through their foreign policy based on domestic policy. How efficient would it be when the needs and considerations of the receiving country are far from being prioritized by the developed donor countries. The remodeling of such development models is the need of the hour, as to not build the assistance infrastructure and development agenda based and influenced from the domestic policies of the developed donor countries. It is important to engage in a global multilateral discussion and build strategies tailored for the needs of the people through the right to development approach.

The decision making and ideology of the North-led development implementation agencies commissioned with the task of assistance in the South are at times far from reality and utopic, partly because the developing receiving countries of the South lack the mechanism and modalities of leadership and not being given adequate representation to lead such assistance and development projects. Resultantly, the personnel involved in such projects, predominantly coming from powerful positions of authority in the North face a social and ideological disconnect to the needs and demands of the people in the South, furthering the inequality and under-representation.

Lack of independent South-led agencies that could develop and implement development assistance projects with a South’s perspective and expertise, is a serious gap in human rights and development. The South also inherently lacks independent development agencies that could partner and collaborate with the Northern development agencies, in an effort to bridge the ever increasing North-South gap.

This also highlights the responsibility of countries in the South to enable a functioning and favorable environment for the establishment and growth of such South led development agencies. A true repair called for permanently curbing the unequal distribution of goods and resources between Global north and South, restoring damaged ecosystems, establishing regenerative economic infrastructures and shifting towards a sustainable and equitable approach to development.

United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development (DRTD)

The United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development (DRTD) , seemingly an ambitious document, sets the stage on the clarity and context for equitable development. It heralds a rights-based approach to development by establishing equality, equity and justice as determinants of development. It states that, “ development theory and practice requires active, free and meaningful participation of the people in the process of development. It embodies the human rights principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation, transparency, accountability as well as international cooperation in an integrated manner..

 Emphasizing the representation of all stakeholders involved in its approach to development, with their due considerations, right to self determination, sovereignty, DRTD promotes a people-centered approach to development, since they’re the beneficiaries and bearers of rights. DRTD further asserts that the human person above all, is at the heart of all economic, social and political activity and in this respect, should not merely be the object, but rather the central subject of the development processes based on the active and free participation of the people.


The burgeoning catastrophic crises the world is currently immersed in, therefore, make imperative the actualization and implementation of the right to development in letter and spirit. Identifying lacunae in existing socio economic policies and structures, mending the gap via alternative convergence policies would help reduce the gnawing disparities between the two regions.

 A systematic overhaul of the current North-South development implementation mechanisms need to take place supported by the political will and acumen of the state governments with the cooperation of the multi stakeholders involved vis av vis an all-inclusive and participatory mechanism. A global cross-sectional reform is the way forward to truly adequately meet the needs of the people in the South and elsewhere, as it is high time to walk the talk of development justice.

Rameen Siddiqui
Rameen Siddiqui
A thought leader and youth activist with main focus areas being Sustainable Development, Political Economy, Development Justice and Advocacy. A member of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). Also a Youth Member of United Nations Association of Pakistan (UNAP).