Please don’t call me ‘Third World’

July 22, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Joe Khamisi 

I get furiously disgusted when I hear people using the term “Third World” in reference to poor, less developed countries like mine. This is a term peddled loosely by toms, dicks, and harrys in the so-called “developed” countries to despise, insult, and degrade young nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, that are struggling to catch up with today’s high-tech world.

The term was born during the Cold War to describe countries that were neither aligned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nor to the Communist Bloc. The United States, Western European nations and their allies earned the coveted title of the “First World” largely because of their economic and military might but also because of their democratic principles.

On the other side of the spectrum, were the Communist nations of Soviet Union, China and Cuba, which were labelled the “Second World.”

The rest of the world, namely, Africa, the whole of Asiatic countries as well as the emerging powers in Arabia and the small oceanic islands, were all lumped into the basket of “others” until some bureaucrats in the financial world and aid circles began to use the term “Third World” to describe extreme “poverty” and “backwardness” in those countries.

So in reality, the term – which some say was coined by French anthropologist Alfred Sauvy in an article published on 14 August 1952 – ceased to have political connotations after the end of the Cold War in 1991 and assumed a more degrading meaning to describe some regions of the world.

Thus, the world was technically divided into the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the weak. The Western hemisphere felt “poor” countries did not deserve a place at the high table because they were under-developed, militarily inferior and socially backward, or, to use a more crude definition, primitive.

The term stuck. Now, you can hear people in “developed countries” blaming “Third World” countries for everything bad, the HIV, Ebola and Zika epidemics; for trafficking in illicit drugs; and generally, for engaging in international criminal activity.

They never acknowledge the contributions of those countries in the fields of medicine, engineering and technology; nor do they want to recognize their rich cultural heritage that has added diversity and color in more advanced countries.

Many successful firms in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, owe their successes to the contributions of technocrats from the so-called “Third World.” The Immigration Policy Institute says it was the Indians who were instrumental in the development of the US’s Information Technology.

Many historians believe too that were it not for African labor (call it slavery), the United States and some European countries such as Britain, would not have prospered as fast as they did. These were “Third World”!

“Third World” oil, and minerals such as uranium, copper and platinum, etc, have kept factories open and furnaces burning in the developed countries for generations, and its gold and diamonds have embellished women the world over. And despite protectionist trade policies that bar African products from accessing developed markets and despite political and economic embargoes and advisories, Africa continues to defy pessimists.

The term “Third World” is to me discriminatory and racist. It reflects a world in which civilizations which have existed for hundreds or thousands of years want to find reasons to compare themselves with emerging nations that are barely a half a century old.

A New York based writer, Zeeshan Aleem, says the “Third World” term is archaic and no longer fashionable due to the growing consensus that the category is neither accurate nor socially appropriate in the 21st Century.

But to avoid being labelled negatively, Africa must also strive to ensure good governance, end corruption, respect human rights and desist from engaging in ethnic conflicts. It must mechanize its agricultural production to avoid those sad pictures of starving children on Western television sets; encourage sciences in schools; and go global in every way. Until all these and more are achieved, I and many of us will continue to blame others for our woes.

To our friends in the developed world I have this to say: God created only one world; not two, not three. So, please stop referring to me as “Third World.”










Joe Khamisi

Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.

The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.

Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.


41Lp0cIndjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_                   photo               51bNmpiMaRL


Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.


In addition to the above books, read Joe Khamisi blog. For media enquiries Joe can be reached at [email protected]

(This article is courtesy of Joe Khamisi and was originally published at the above blog on 20 July 2016)


No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.