“Development” Appropriation in Myanmar: Partnership, Contestation
Time & LocationSession 12
Fri 15:30–17:00 Room 1.505
- Alexander Horstmann Tallinn University
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- “They Do Not Have Wide Eyes”: The “Local Turn” in International Development and Its Implications for Civil Society in Karen State, Myanmar Shona Loong University of Oxford
International development actors increasingly recognise the centrality of the “local” to achieving global goals. They encourage partnerships between themselves, local civil society, and local authorities in the name of achieving poverty reduction, and define organisational strengthening for local actors as an end goal. Good governance programming, widespread since the 1990s, now operates at a finer scale. Amid this “local turn” in international development, this paper discusses the interface between civil society and development actors in Hpa-An, the capital of government-controlled Karen State. Whereas Karen civil society was once dominated by border-based organisations with largely S’gaw Karen leaders, the international development regime offers P’wo Karen civil society leaders inside Burma/Myanmar new pathways to political agency. These P’wo Karen leaders are critical of the Burmese government and the Karen National Union—and find that the international development regime offers resources for pursuing change outside these frameworks. However, by asking civil society to play up the “local” dimensions of their work, the development regime keeps Hpa-An’s civil society at arms length from the centres of political power, reinforcing an uneven geography of power between Myanmar’s centre and periphery. Moreover, the fragmentation of Hpa-An’s civil society into multiple issue-based consortiums distances civil society actors within Myanmar from their border-based counterparts, who aspire to a more comprehensive political vision for the Karen. In Myanmar, the “local turn” in international development could extend the logic of divide-and-rule, entrenching differences not only between Burmans and non-Burmans, but also between Karen people.
- “We Are Like Blood Relations”: Negotiating Ethnic Inclusion in Myanmar’s Curriculum Revision Rosalie Metro University of Missouri
Since 2014, the Myanmar Ministry of Education (MOE) has been working with an assortment of inter-governmental organizations to revise school curricula, with one of the stated goals being to improve “inclusivity by ensuring representation from different ethnic groups” (Higgins et al., 2016, p. 114). Thus far, kindergarten, first, and second grade textbooks and teacher guides prepared by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have been approved by the MOE and put into use. These curricula represent a fascinating arena for the contestation of national identity. Whereas JICA, the World Bank, and other international partners involved in education reform prioritize social inclusion, ethnic diversity, and peace, the old textbooks presented an overwhelmingly Burman-centric, Buddhist-dominated, Burmese-speaking national identity which fomented conflict (Salem-Gervais & Metro, 2013). Therefore, the international and local consultants who developed the new curricula faced the difficult task of appropriating the ideology of ethnic inclusion in a way that was palatable to the MOE, in a political climate in which maintaining the boundaries of the nation has taken on fresh importance. The new curricula illustrates the risks and compromises inherent in that endeavor. As an anthropologist of education, I use critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003) to compare the old and new textbooks’ treatment of national and ethnic identity. I argue that the ideology of inclusion has been unevenly appropriated, resulting in contradictory messages that, ultimately, maintain Burman-centrism in schooling.
- “We Shall Decide Our Political Destiny”: The Desire for Modernity and Revolutionary Commitments in a Large-Scale Conservation Project in Southeast Myanmar Tomas Cole Stockholm University
In this paper I take my point of departure in the Salween Peace Park in southeast Myanmar to explore how global conservation initiatives are doubly captured by local actors. The first capture I demonstrate comes in how global efforts to protect biodiversity are being turned by the non-government armed groups the Karen National Union (KNU) and their affiliated ecological activist into something more than conservation. These initiatives are, in the face of creeping Myanmar state territorialisation in the wake of the 2012 ceasefire, increasingly being hooked onto KNU’s seven-decade long struggle for self-determination in what I call liberation conservation. The second capture I demonstrate comes in how this re-purposed ‘liberation conservation’ is itself being turned to local needs and desires by the indigenous, almost entirely subsistence farming, peoples that now find themselves living within the Salween Peace Park. Here I show the friction created when ecological activist’s priorities of protecting biodiversity and ‘local traditions’ rub against local people’s hopes and dreams to, at least in part, escape their current poverty, the desire for modernity, and their considerable skepticism to the KNU, and authority in general. However, in doing this I want to move way from more dualistic conceptions that seek to place ‘the people’ in opposition to a rapacious and exploitative ‘indigenous elite’. My ethnography suggests something closer what Alpa Shah (2013) calls the intimacy of insurgency. These frictions occur in intimate relations, often described in kinship terms, of squabbles between family members – people tied together by continued revolutionary commitments to the long struggle against the Myanmar Army and toward self-determination.
Various forms of development assistance to Myanmar accelerated after political transition in 2011. Within the confines of foreign funded programs and projects actors have sought to aid the country’s lack of land rights, peace, rule of law, environmental conservation, women’s rights, and so on.
This panel critically explores how internationally funded development and conservation projects and initiatives that carry a specific model are appropriated by local actors in Myanmar, sometimes to shore up the legitimacy and authority of certain groups on the local scale, other times “reputationally laundered” from signs of foreign involvement due to nationalist sentiments and endemic xenophobia.
The development models the panel seeks to address could include, but are not limited to:
The panel approaches the idea of development in Myanmar from an interdisciplinary and critical political-anthropological perspective that question the donors and the construction of ‘global’ models and then examine the end users of such models. Raising these questions in a fragile political environment can reveal uncanny links of state-/military partnerships with NGOs, development agencies, activist groups and venture capitalists and reiterative cycles of contestation and opportunity.