Rakhine State, historically known as Arakan, represents the post-colonial failures of Myanmar in microcosm: ethnic conflict, political impasse, militarisation, economic neglect and the marginalisation of local peoples. During the past decade, many of these challenges have gathered a new intensity, accentuating a Buddhist-Muslim divide and resulting in one of the greatest refugee crises in the modern world. A land of undoubted human and natural resource potential, Rakhine State has become one of the poorest territories in the country today.
As the government meets to design a “roadmap” for developing the new national land law, TNI looks at how the situation has changed since the development of the National Land Use policy a few years ago and reflects on the issues at stake for millions of people across the country with rights to land in the current context.
A Memorandum of Understanding to establish the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) was signed by the governments of Myanmar and China in September 2018. The CMEC forms part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a 21st century reimagining of the ancient Silk Road, the network of land and sea trade routes that once linked Imperial China with markets in the west.
Kayah State, historically known as “Karenni State”, is an example of the reform dilemmas that the ethnic nationality peoples in Myanmar face today. Although the country’s smallest state, it reflects many of the challenges in peace-building and socio-political transition that need resolution in Myanmar at large: political impasse, a multiplicity of conflict actors, contested natural resources, land grabbing, humanitarian suffering, and divided communities seeking to rebuild after more than six decades of civil war.
How is the peace process in Myanmar going? What progress has been made toward reform? After decades under military rule, the 21st Century Panglong Conference has been welcomed as the most encouraging recent initiative to address humanitarian suffering and national instability. It prioritises ethnic peace and political reform at a moment of opportunity for national reconciliation. However, as ethnic conflict and refugee displacement continue worrying failings have started to appear, raising many warnings from the country’s troubled history.
For people affected by displacement, land is much more than just an economic asset. Being able to return to one’s original place is a deeply felt aspiration about restoring the social relations that constitute a person’s identity. The long-standing displacement of people, land-grabbing and non-existence of rights to land in many parts of the country mean that land reform and land restitution must be a central issue in any peace settlement. What happens today with the land is inextricably tied to the country’s future prospects for peace and democracy.
There are serious concerns that government reforms will further exacerbate land tenure and food insecurity for the majority of the population in Myanmar who rely on their farm fields and forests for their livelihoods.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation with China at the time of their inauguration in March. But, as she visits Beijing this week, hopes are high again in China that a redirection of Myanmar's foreign policy could be underway and the pendulum of Myanmar's balancing diplomacy is swinging back to the east. But many challenges lie ahead. These include resolution of the Myitsone dam impasse, repositioning political relations between the two countries, and peaceful settlement of ethnic conflicts in the Myanmar borderlands. The stakes are very high. The outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi's meetings could well come to define Myanmar-China relations for many years to come.
What is the role of land in establishing lasting future peace in Myanmar? The country is at a crossroads, and facing rapid land polarization. However, the inauguration of a new government chosen by a landslide in historic elections offers an unprecedented opportunity to change course in a positive direction. An approach that prioritizes poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups especially ethnic nationalities, women, and youth, could lay a foundation for peace.
The Irrawaddy - Several of Burma’s civil society organizations (CSOs) and ethnic community leaders have called for the government to develop a national land restitution policy for communities displaced by conflict.
We are at a critical juncture in our history, more promising than at any time in recent memory. The country will have a civilian-majority government that came to office through the votes of a multitude of smaller nationality groups for a pan-national party promising political change. If this political transition is to succeed, poverty must be alleviated, corruption curtailed, drug abuse radically reduced, and a host of other social crises addressed that have long blighted our country.
The resounding victory of the National League for Democracy in the November general election has raised hopes in Myanmar and around the world that, finally, the country could be on the road towards peace and democracy. Sadly, there have been too many failures in the past for simple optimism now. During the past half-century, there have been important highpoints before when expectations were raised that the national armed forces, known as Tatmadaw, would restore democratic rights to the people and nationwide peace might spread in the country.
China's fast growing capital expansion within South East Asia is raising concerns about landgrabs and exploitative practices, especially as it is often aligned with support for authoritarian regimes such as Burma.
TNI's Myanmar in Focus project strengthens (ethnic) civil society and political actors to deal with the challenges brought about by the rapid opening-up of the country, while also working to bring about an inclusive and sustainable peace. TNI has developed a unique expertise on Myanmar’s ethnic regions, and through its programme is bringing the whole Institute’s work on agrarian justice, alternative development and a humane drugs policy together.