As the peace negotiations in Myanmar continue at an ever-increasing pace, the necessity for regulated, transparent, and ethical business opportunities increases.
While there has been much negative criticism of business’s role in the peace process, with government talks often being attended and in some cases financed by businessmen, the need for development in ethnic states should not be overshadowed by political short-sightedness and worries over the inclusion of the private sector.
It is essential that ethnic armed groups, in a time of peace, should move away from their current main sources of income, which include taxing the local communities, logging and mining, to less socially and environmentally destructive forms of supporting themselves. And the private sector can facilitate this. While environmental activists will argue that the inclusion of business is detrimental to the peace process, it is essential in areas that have been underdeveloped for decades.
Businesses can create economic opportunities and generate wealth, which is essential for peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. Also, as in this case, at the conflict resolution stage, businesses can encourage parties to avoid conflict in exchange for the pursuit of economic development. In addition, they can assist the Myanmar government in carrying out peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction work.
Nonetheless, it must also be recognized that the root causes of conflict can only be dealt with properly if violations of economic, social and cultural rights are effectively addressed.
As Chin leader Dr. Lian Sakhong notes in relation to the Myanmar government’s use of businessmen as peace brokers: “The [Myanmar] government’s perception is that the reason why ethnic armed groups hold arms is the fact that they are poor, and that development is the solution. And this is the reason why the government uses businessmen as peace brokers. However, the government’s perception is wrong - it is not poverty, but the denial of political and ethnic rights that has caused decades of conflict.”
Ethnic peace processes in the country are still fragile especially as the conflict in Kachin State continues to escalate. Therefore, any private sector support should be encouraged to help support armed ethnic groups and local communities in those areas where ceasefires already exist. But involvement of the private sector must be monitored to ensure it is regulated and transparent.
|Paul Keenan is research coordinator for the Burma Centre for Ethnic Studies, an independent think tank and study centre.|
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