ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Looking Back at the South Commission

A member of the erstwhile South Commission (1987-90) describes its genesis and journey while critically examining, in retrospect, not only its composition and its political economy framework but also the very notion of the South as a political economy configuration. It is contended that the concept of South does not exist today in the sense as it did in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s.

The article is based on a lecture delivered by the author at the Ambedkar University, Delhi on 11 February 2015. The author would like to acknowledge Neha Choudhary and Smriti Sharma’s assistance in writing the piece.

As has been written in many otherbooks (Prashad 2007, 2013) and papers, the vision of a global South emerged due to two earlier developments. These were the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the affirmation of the North as a united political economy by the Brandt Commission (1977–80) and the Brundtland Commission (1983–87)—they in turn were influenced by other developments and processes. In 1980, the Brandt Report1—by an independent commission chaired by the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt—tried to provide an understanding of the drastic differences in the economic development of the northern and southern hemispheres of the world. The Brundtland Commission, formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), was set up by the United Nations (UN) to rally countries to work together and pursue sustainable development. The commission was chaired by Gro Harlem, the former Prime Minister of Norway.

Led as these were by retired heads of state of powerful nations of the North, the ideas and proposals put forward by these commissions gained currency across the world, especially among the international financial institutions. The leaders of the NAM, along with its then chairperson, Robert Gabriel Mugabe (1986), resolved to put together a commission, whose members would be drawn from the former colonies, to define a vision and a road map for the member countries to rehabilitate themselves, drawing from their own strengths. Julius Nyerere, the leader of the liberation struggle in Tanzania and its first president, was requested to take up the leadership of this commission. Julius Nyerere, known as Mwalimu (the Swahili term for teacher), was a socialist and a freedom fighter who had the political fire in his belly to turn this endeavour into a liberation struggle—liberation from the hegemony of Eurocentric thought. As the chairperson of the South Commission, he clearly stated that he wanted a countervailing power to not only the economic power of the North but also its intellectual hegemony. Liberation from colonisation could not bear fruit, he argued, unless the North’s economic exploitation and intellectual domination was put an end to. He reminded us of Gandhi’s argument that political freedom is not fruitful without economic freedom (Jain 2011).

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