The incidents that took place in the Rakhine state (previously Arakan) of Burma/Myanmar in August 25 (2017) and the Myanmar governments’ actions on and reactions to the Rohingya crisis, indicate the ugly face of Burmese nationalism. This behavior is the consequence of state centric policies that have generated refugees, created conflicts and produced a grave humanitarian situation. This version of extreme nationalism is carefully crafted by Myanmar’s regime and is historically rooted. The practice of extreme nationalism in Myanmar so far has been to benefit “Us” at the expense of “Others”. It has constructed and framed the Rohingya as the “Others”, therefore justifying their actions to eliminate “the existential threat” to the Burmese way of life and to the Burmese population. The military maintains strict control over government institutions. The quasi-civilian government is still following the footsteps of the military government that precisely failed to bring unity while it was in power for fifty years.
As the United Nations General Assembly kicked off in New York this week, Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi—notably absent from the multilateral forum’s high-level session—finally spoke at length about the current crisis involving her country’s Rohingya ethnic minority. Suu Kyi’s national address on September 19, although condemning “all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” has done little to calm the critics who believe Myanmar’s leader is not doing nearly enough to acknowledge the dire humanitarian situation and help ensure that current challenges are overcome.
Three weeks into the current wave of violence that erupted in Rakhine State, reports continue to filter out, despite curbs on media access. These detail the Burmese army and Buddhist gangs directly targeting civilians, including perpetrating rapes and burning whole villages to the ground.
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Swisspeace has been involved in and on Myanmar since 2012, focusing on the nationally-driven peace process between the government, the army and ethnic armed organizations. In addition to direct support to local actors involved in the process, we have also contributed by capturing the stories and experiences from Myanmar actors to draw lessons and nourish the next phases of the national efforts.
This blog is about our new publication and shows how essential it is to write about and value local peace efforts in order to better understand the situation and respond in more sustainable manner. In this blog we also implicitly reflect upon our rather unique methodological approach. This text is adapted from the editors’ reflections in the publication itself. The full publication is available online, or can be ordered in print.
- Weak cohesion within nonstate armed groups can—and has often threatened to—undermine negotiated transitions away from conflict.
- Cohesion is measured along two axes: vertical (degree of command and control over cadres) and horizontal (degree of unity among leaders).
- Challenges are typically related to negotiating partners who have little credibility, negotiating positions that are either unclear or incoherent, factions within groups that oppose the peace process, and splintering within groups.
Weak cohesion within nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) has often threatened to undermine negotiated transitions from conflict. This can have an impact at any time—when parties are deciding on whether to join a process, during negotiation of peace agreements, and into implementation.
Cohesion can generally be measured along two axes: vertical (command and control over cadres) and horizontal (unity among leaders). Vertical cohesion is weak when leaders cannot control their fighters, and strong when they can. Horizontal cohesion is weak when leadership includes competing and disjointed factions, and strong when leaders have consensus over goals and are coordinated in action. Weak cohesion manifests in various combinations along these axes and is often a blend of the two.
What does Myanmar need to push through a successful democratic transition? It must build strong institutions, transform the economy, and end decades of conflict between ethnic armed groups and government forces, among numerous other challenges. Yet, these enormous tasks seem trivial when compared to what is probably the biggest obstacle to further democratic reform: the role of Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw.
No other institution is more powerful than the Tatmadaw in Myanmar. Over five decades of military rule, the armed forces became entrenched in politics and business. Not only does it occupy 25 percent of total seats in Parliament, granting it an effective veto over constitutional change, but it also controls three key ministries: Defense, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs. The president is not the commander-in-chief, and hence, has no official control of the Tatmadaw. Moreover, the constitution grants the military power to take charge of the country in times of emergency.