I am primarily an activist residing in Myanmar and deeply concerned with and involved in my country’s present, multiple and difficult transitions viz.
– from the longest-running civil war to a durable peace;
– from authoritarianism to democracy;
– from a centralized, majoritarian system of governance to greater devolution of power and recognition of ethnic aspirations;
– from an ailing hybrid command/market economy to a healthy, open and ‘normal’ economy.
I had served with the ministries of health in Myanmar and Malaysia, and later with UNICEF Yangon. In the doldrums of the one-party state and stagnant economy before 1988 I had attempted to initiate a new development path through civil society but the prevailing situation did not allow this to happen. When the popular upheaval of 1988 occurred and brought down the previous system, I became fully immersed in the transitions mentioned above, as well as in human rights work in response to the wave of repression that followed. For this, I became a political prisoner from 1994 to 2005. My release did not bring any relief however, nor respite. The country faces a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation brought about by mismanagement within the country and by punitive measures from abroad.
Then and now, I do not belong to any organization, political or otherwise. I have continued my civil society work, specifically in advocacy for humanitarian assistance, and in helping to set up local NGOs working on HIV/AIDS. At the same time I became involved in advocacy for conflict resolution and peace-building in recognition of the tenuous and fragile ‘peace’ following ceasefires with ethnic paramilitaries which began in 1989. I am part of the Analysis and Strategy Group set up by Shalom Foundation, one of Myanmar’s leading local NGOs. A peace building committee, of which too I am to be a member, has been proposed to the military regime but approval has not been forthcoming.
When I was kindly invited to submit a proposal for a visiting fellowship with the New York Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, I chose the topic “Stabilizing the Peace in Myanmar”. When I submitted my proposal in May this year, I expected to be working on postconflict reconstruction and economic and social development in the affected areas. However it has become a matter of grave concern that the situation shows signs of unraveling recently, in light of the 14-year National Convention to draft the principles for a new constitution wrapping up without considering ethnic nationality proposals for more ethnic rights and decentralized governance. Added to this is the explosive potential that lies in the military regime’s intention to disarm the paramilitaries.
It would now appear that circumstances and the immediacy of the moment have contrived to orient my fellowship project more towards a lobbying effort directed at the international community on the one hand and the Myanmar military regime – the SPDC – on the other. An effort to keep the hard-won peace from collapsing altogether. It has to be concomitant if it is to be effective.
To lay out a path for the country through the wreckage of past structures, defunct ideologies and most importantly, failed leadership styles and personalities. A path through which the Myanmar people must pass to extricate themselves from the present quagmire they are in.
There are huge looming national issues and needs which neither side in the country has set their hands to. Both sides are entrenched in old-style approaches which haven’t worked before and are even more unlikely to work in the present. A new course grounded on political creativity and entrepreneurship is called for, and it is my hope to contribute to this.
– A country of 56 million people trying to recover from a 50-year civil war, and making a difficult transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
– A largely agrarian economy moving out of the straitjacket of a centrally-planned command model which had failed, and yet hampered by economic sanctions which have denied aid, investment, trade and even tourism.