Calling on Canada to help end Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya at Toronto City Council on 23 Nov 2017

Saying "Sorry!" to a Rohingya brother who survived Myanmar Genocide, Kutupalong Camp, Bangladesh, 7 Nov 2017.

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Meeting with The Minister of Foreign Affairs Rt. Honourable Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, M.P., State Guest House, Dhaka, 4 Nov 2017

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

An overview of Myanmar's 'Democratic Transition" and "Economic Reforms"

What many a Myanmar pundits and plaudits - college interns are also welcome to call themselves "Myanmar experts', not just the ICG's gentlemen - have described as 'transition' 'reforms' is best captured by the above Burmese saying - hounds at the village pagoda feast.

Imagine this: 

hounds with streams of saliva dripping down from their hanging tongues, with big and small lustful eyes against the backdrop of differently sized bones scattered on the ground. ugly and handsome dogs, feasting, occasionally scaring off other scavenging fellow founds, while wagging their tales feasting over a piece of meat, biting a piece of meat off a big knee bone, etc. 

Last night I learned from two businessmen - that Teza, the crony and arms dealer for the Burmese regime per excellence who, after having amassed enough ill-gotten wealth has decided to morph himself into a patriotic philanthropist, has been given Pyi-htaung-Su Yeik Thar - a massive once highly coveted housing complex in Rangoon reserved only for senior ranking civil servants. 

Most of state-own properties - that is, assets belonging to the PEOPLE or the public - have been fast-pocketed by the members of the crony-general/ex-general complex. 

This systematic day-light robbery is being branded by Myanmar experts with different sizes and shapes of their tails as 'transition' 'reform process'. 

After 51 years since General Ne Win transformed the State and the government in Burma, for worse, we have become a classic tale of Khwe Hpa Ya Bwe Twe Dae or hungry hounds stumbling into a village pagoda feast! 

among the hungry and ugly hounds are cronies, presidential advisers, peace advisers, ceasefire negotiators, civil society builders, state capacity enhancers, we-want-no-Rohingya "human rights defenders", i-aint-a-human-rights-defender human rights Nobel icon, give-me-ceasefire-or-give-me-BMW-and Bentley-import-permits ethnic nationalities leaders, and the list goes on. 

all epoch changing situations attract crooks of all stripes and colours to crawl out of their holes, find their niche, make their fortune and attempt to realize their 'greatness' or 'brilliance'. Japan Khit again! kinda like the early days of the fall of Mandalay - many Kinwun Maung Kaungs these days! 

Obviously, I feel sorry for myself that I am left out of this feast!!! LOL! Even the guys I vetted for the military intelligence are now growing in size - in terms of delusions, ambitions and self-importance! 

Their names will be recorded in a book in Buddhist Hell made of dog's skin' - as we kids say in Mandalay during the water festival! 

But again dogs being recorded in dog-skinned book, that's a given! Enjoy your Sunday! I am enjoying mine, taking another dose of cold tablets!

Myanmar's Red Shan as Naypyidaw's Strategic Proxy: Understanding the Invisible Hand behind the Red Shan's Protests against the Kachin Independence Army

Naypyidaw has found a local proxy - the Red Shan - to open a new local and propaganda front against the Kachin Independence Army. 

Myanmar generals and its puppet Thein Sein regime have used 'ceasefire negotiations' as a show pursuit of 'peace' - to keep the so-called donors and China on its side. 

Because the KIA insists on political settlement before ceasefires - and has enabled other weaker armed groups to rally around its possible, Myanmar generals are now using the Shan Ni (or red Shan) as its strategic proxy creating the wedge between the KIA and the non-Kachin populations there. 

I am sure the KIA troops are also guilty of rights abuses. But the ultimate culprit is DISHONEST and NEO-FASCIST Myanmar generals and ex-generals who have refused to accept any viable federal system of government. 

In the case of Sri Lanka's colonial war against the Tamil Eelam, Colombo used, among other things, the issue of 'child soldiers' used by the LTTE to try to turn the 'donors' opinion about the Tamil resistance, and Washington eventually aided and abetted Colombo government in the latter's choice of the zero-sum military game with the Tamil resistance. UN agencies and other international bodies were complicit in enabling Sri Lanka's genocidal regime in its pursuit of military victory over lasting political and peace arrangements with the Tamils. For instance, Sri Lanka Government would inflate the number of child soldiers used by the Tamil Eeelam resistance and UNICEF would use those figures at face value, knowing full well that Colombo was un-trustworthy with its pronouncements and facts and figures. 

In my view it is likely that Naypyidaw is emulating Colombo's victorious strategy of aligning its strategic interests with those of the key international players such as USA, China, UK and India. 

(in fact, President Rajapaksa's first trip overseas right after the military defeat of the Tamil resistance was Naypyidaw. He was said to have advised a similarly zero-sum mission against all ethnic resistance groups in Myanmar, when Than Shwe and Maung Aye asked if the Sinhalese had any input to end Myanmar's civil war). 

In fact, Naypyidaw as an internally colonial power is adept at using the classic 'divide and conquer' strategy against ANY GROUP in opposition to it. 

Myanmar generals cannot be trusted when it comes to power, wealth and control of the population, resources and territories. 

They have turned Karens against Karens, the Buddhist Karens against the Christian Karens, the older war-fatigued ethnic resistance leaders against the younger generation resistance leaders, Bama dissidents against themselves, Kokants against the Shan, the Pa-O against the Shan, the Kachins against the Red Shan, the Chinese against the Bama, the Indians against the Bama public, the Rohingya against the Muslims, Buddhist monks against themselves, the students and intellectuals against the dissident ex-army veterans, the Muslims against Muslims, wives against wives, etc. 

This is their strategy - they will NEVER EVER give up or share power, unless they are FORCED to. 

Any strategy or efforts to change the country's political institutions must be based solely on this cardinal and unassailable FACT about the nature of the Burmese generals and their power base - the Armed Forces or Tatmadaw. 

I know what I am talking. Anyone who has not internalized this empirical reality is either delusional or dishonest intellectually about the regimes in Myanmar and their signature pathos of power.

Burma’s Senseless Census

(Photo: Soe Win Than / AFP / Getty Image)

By Elliott Prasse-Freeman
December 20, 2013

Burma's census disregards the complex ethnic identities of its people. Could this breathe new life into sectarian conflict?

Next year, Burma will embark on its first census-taking process in more than three decades. It's an opportunity, but it's also a significant risk. One the one hand, the census could compel the state to finally recognize long-excluded people and foster a better collective understanding of the daily struggles that most Burmese face. But on the other, the census is set up to obscure Burma's incredible diversity by requiring that Burmese people choose just one ethnic identity, even if they identify with many ethnicities. This comes at a dangerous point in Burma's simmering ethnic conflict, especially since nationalists are now using conceptions of exclusive and timeless ethnicity to justify violence against populations suddenly deemed irrevocably "foreign."

Instead of fueling such demagoguery, politics around the census process should expose the inaccuracy of those narratives and highlight the wonderfully mixed-up nature of ethnicity in Burma. Otherwise, the census seems poised to be part of a new kind of Burmese state practice, one that simply goes from domination (direct and despotic) to a new kind of control (diffused and bureaucratic) that limits rather than enables Burma's people.

Burma has 135 "official national races" (in addition to the Chinese, Indians, Rohingya, etc., who have yet to be recognized as autochthonous despite their long-standing membership in Burma's society). Observers use this number to remark on Burma's incredible diversity -- but this categorization is often myopic. It implies that every citizen fits snugly into one silo: only Shan, only Karen, only Burman. A closer look at Burma's ethnic make-up, however, shows a vast diversity not simply within the country, but within people themselves.

Over three months of field research in Yangon this summer, I asked dozens of Burmese about their lu-myo (race or ethnicity) and found that individuals often describe complex, mixed-ethnic genealogies. For example, a Burmese colleague explained that ethnic identity is highly dependent on context: "For people like me who live in cities and don't speak an ethnic minority language, don't have ethnic minority names, and who are Buddhists, I don't think it would be a problem to identify ourselves as ‘Bamar lu-myo' ['Burman'] at first. But as we talk more about ourselves we include more information about different ethnic roots we have.... I am Bamar, but I'm also Mon, Pa-O, and Chinese." As this suggests, in Burma, ethnicity is lived less as a pseudo-scientific racial category and more as a set of practices shaped by one's environment.

Because context matters, an individual's own lu-myo can also be "on the move," changing between generations or within individuals over their own lifetimes. For instance, a man told me about his father's shifting identity: he was born Rohingya Muslim, but after refraining from Islamic worship practices, marrying a Rakhine Buddhist, taking on Rakhine modes of dress, drinking habits, etc., he now is often considered Rakhine. There are countless examples of this phenomenon: a colleague identifies as Mon though a cousin of hers does not; another scholar found a Karen-identified brother and Kachin-identified sister.

And yet, against these mutating and elusive identifications, the recent conflict in Burma's western Arakan state between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims -- in which mobs of local Buddhists have left hundreds of Rohingya dead and 125,000 displaced -- relies on a concept of ethnicity that is more absolute. (In the photo above, Muslim residents of Rakhine state await aid after losing their homes in sectarian violence in early October.) I interviewed multiple Rakhine individuals who insisted that "all so-called Rohingya" were actually "Bengalis" (considered "outsiders") and should be expelled. At the same time, Wakkar Uddin, a prominent Rohingya activist, told an audience at Columbia University last year that the Rohingya were determined to expel illegal "Bengalis." Significant here is how Buddhist Rakhine reject any potential blurring of boundaries between themselves and Muslims (whether Rohingya or "Bengali"), while the Rohingya are doing the same with themselves and "Bengalis."

The Rakhine/Rohingya case shows that conflicts can ossify conceptions of ethnicity to the point where they are no longer fluid and flexible, particularly when ethnicity becomes in part a vehicle for accessing resources. International media coverage has focused on racist monks or shadowy military elites collaborating with Rakhine demagogues to foment unrest. However, interviews with Rakhine individuals suggest that the conflict is grounded in perceived struggles over resources, especially surrounding the recently completed Shwe Pipeline, which carries gas to China but has left Rakhine state the second-least developed in Burma. Moreover, Rakhine individuals told me they were afraid of "losing their land" to Rohingya, who are ostensibly able to win control of resources by utilizing the support of international Muslim communities.

Other Rakhine say that international development only benefits Rohingya and ignores Rakhine needs. One man asked, "Why do the NGOs always come to our land but provide nothing for us, only for the Rohingya?" As a Rakhine woman explained, in this context, "Rakhine" has come to mean something very particular: "If we had development, we might say we are just 'Myanmar' [citizens]. But we don't." Rapid and unequal development is making ethnicity a conduit for protecting access to resources, a phenomenon that appears to be spreading across the country.

Given that ethnicity is a fluid but potentially charged concept, the question becomes whether Burma's reform process will embrace the country's complexity, or choose to privilege mono-ethnicity. This is where the census comes in. Interviews with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency providing technical assistance to the census process, reveal that the census has been designed to ignore the existence of multiple identities. Respondents must choose only one of the official 135 ethnicities, or check the "Other" box and write in their ethnicity. If a person with multiple identities refuses to choose one, the census defaults to their father's ethnic identity.

This may have serious political consequences. If people who claim multiple identities choose to report only, for instance, a "Burman" identity, hyper-nationalist movements may argue that these data "prove" that Burma's ethnic issues were always overstated and demand that the government grant collective resources to the besieged majority. Alternatively, if people report only non-Burman identities, the same movement could use those data to construct an equally dangerous argument: "We Burmans, the rightful sons of Burma's soil, are being bred out by the ethnic minorities. We must fight back." Burma's current monk-led, anti-Muslim "969 movement" can be seen as an inchoate version of such politics.

Why, then, would the state choose to implement the census this way? Is this a government conspiracy, a project to foment extremism while displacing official recognition of diversity? It appears not: UNFPA's technical advisors say that it is simply logistically difficult -- for both the census enumerators and its respondents -- to record multiple ethnicities.

But this could have drastic consequences. Comparative historical evidence shows that state census projects can intervene in sociological reality, creating the very categories they count. Indeed, a closer inspection of Burma's current 135 official races show them to already be arbitrary and confused, asserting phantom ethnicities on one hand and eliminating existing identities on the other. As scholar Mufti Myint Thein shows, the government concocted the number 135 in 1982, when many Muslim ethnicities were removed from official recognition (link in Burmese). These acts of reduction provide the grounds for exclusion: as in, "you are group x, and group x is not part of us."

How will Burmese people respond to such a project? During the long years of military control, state messages were often disregarded or ignored by a wary or disinterested populace. But now, Burma's state elites are busy reforming health, education, legal, and tax sectors, and much more, promising a transition from military authoritarianism to an aspiring Weberian-bureaucracy. When institutional changes actually affect people's daily needs, they have reason to listen; when these changes hinge on ideas of ethnic belonging, ethnic conflict may follow. Since Burma's most recent constitution guarantees special political representation if a lu-myo achieves 0.1 percent of the population, ethnicity will be a powerful means for groups to fight for their interests -- but only for the ones that qualify. The census, then, will help determine which groups matter in Burma, and which don't.

So what can census makers do to fix this problem? The best option seems to be to change the current format to allow citizens to select multiple identities to accurately represent their experiences. Even then, this may not be enough to dampen the socially fragmentary effects of Burma's current scramble for development.

Indeed, whether the census is reformed or not, what ultimately matters is how this census information is turned into political narratives about legitimate political belonging. Contesting ethnic violence in Burma will require messages that stress that the military regime was abusive to Burmese people of all ethnic backgrounds -- but that people from these varied groups are still able to forge relationships based on mutual respect and benefit, and are all committed to participating in a future Burma.

In other words, the census can certainly make things worse, but it cannot make things better on its own. Political leaders and citizens must together craft a new concept of citizenship in Burma, one based on the shared politics of daily life there that embraces all of Burma's diverse people without eliding any of their particular identities.

Myanmar's National Spirit: In His (the late Aung San's) Own Words

If you are puzzled or dismayed by the display of nasty, vandalistic and immature national spirit of Myanmar football audiences, including Crony-Thief Max Zaw Zaw who chairs Myanmar Football Association and all the social media neo-Fascist Bama, it's encoded in the Bama public psyche. 

60-plus years of national independence have not enabled the Bama to evolve from the Kiplinesque children of the country's neo-feudal, klepto-fascist patriotism. 

I am glad Aung San was killed when he was killed. He didn't suffer the pathetic public! 

Here is the late Aung San in his own words who had nothing in common, ideologically, politically or intellectually, with his vanity- and hypocrisy-soaked daughter. 

A speech by the late Aung San given on 13 July 1947 (6 days before he was blessed to death by the assassins so as not to deal with the country's post-colonial rubbish bin). 

"Take football, for instance. We the Burmese get excited when our team scores first. If we score a few additional goals then we don't feel like playing our best, thinking that the victory is assured. But when we are about to lose or draw towards the close of the match - and when we become convinced that we can't turn the looming defeat or draw into a win then we begin to commit all sorts of nasty fouls. 

This is our Bama football spirit! This is what is called lacking any 'sporting spirit'. But we the Bama like to flatter ourselves by viewing this lack of sporting spirit as something positive, like 'we are a very strong minded and proud people'. You know what? That's just a misplaced popular pride. 

The national spirit of the Bama is utterly misplaced and misdirected at things unworthy. When it comes to things and issues that really matter the Bama have proven utterly useless. The Bama are prone to engage in fraternal or internecine fights. If we keep behaving this way nothing will be gained or accomplished. 

This type of Bama spirit needs to be eradicated." 

(ဗုိလ္ခ်ဳပ္ ေအာင္ဆန္း ေျပာၾကား ခ့ဲတ့ဲ ဗမာေတြရဲ့ စိတ္ဓာတ္) 

“ဒီေတာ့ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲၾကည့္ ...၊ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ ဗမာေတြ.. ဟုတ္လား...၊ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲမယ္... ကန္ၾကတဲ့ အခါမယ္ ဆိုရင္...၊ ကိုယ္က ပထမ စ ဂိုးသြင္း ရရင္.. အေတာ္ေလး တစ္ခါထဲ အားတက္ လာတယ္...။ ေနာက္တစ္ခါ ေတာ္ေတာ္ေလး ဂိုးေလးမ်ား လာၿပီ ဆိုရင္ ေလွ်ာ့ေလွ်ာ့ ေပါ့ေပါ့ ကန္ခ်င္ လာၿပီ...။ ငါႏိုင္မွာ ပါပဲ ဆိုၿပီး...။ အဲ့ဒါနဲ႔ ေနၿပီးေတာ့ တစ္ဖက္ ကေန အၿပီးသတ္ ခါက်မွ ကပ္ၿပီးေတာ့ ဂိုးသြင္း သြားလို႔ သေရ ျဖစ္ျဖစ္..၊ ႐ံႈးတာ ျဖစ္ျဖစ္..၊ ကိုယ့္ဘက္က ဂိုးလည္း မသြင္း ႏုိင္ဘူးဆို အဲ့ဒီ အခါ က်ေတာ့ လူခ် တာပဲ...။ ဒါ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ ဗမာေတြ ေဘာလံုး ပြဲေတြ..၊ ေဘာလံုး ကန္တဲ့ အက်င့္....။ အဲ့ဒါဟာ Sporting Spirit မရွိဘူးလို႔ ေခၚတယ္....” ““ဒါဘာလဲ ဆိုလို႔ ရွိရင္... ဗမာေတြ စိတ္ထဲ မယ္ေတာ့.. ဒါ ထင္လိမ့္ မယ္ေပါ့...။ ဗမာ ေတြဟာ စိတ္ဓာတ္ ထက္တယ္... ဘာညာ...။ တလြဲ ဆံပင္ ေကာင္းေန တာနဲ႔ အတူတူပဲ ....။ ဒီစကားဟာ ဒီလိုေနရာ ေတြမွာ သံုးဖို႔ပဲ...။ ဗမာေတြရဲ႔ စိတ္ဓာတ္က မဟုတ္တဲ့ ေနရာ ေတြမွာ သြားၿပီး ေတာ္ေနတယ္...။ တကယ့္ ေနရာေတြ မယ္က်ေတာ့ အသံုး မက်ဘူး...။ ဗမာ ဗမာခ်င္း ခ်ဖို႔ရာမွာ လုပ္ခ်င္တယ္...။ အဲ့ဒါ မ်ဳိးေတြ လုပ္ခ်င္တယ္...။ ဒါမ်ဳိးေတြ လုပ္ခ်င္လို႔ ဘယ္ေတာ့မွ အက်ဳိး မရွိဘူး...။ အဲ့ေတာ့က ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႔ အဲ့ဒီလို စိတ္ဓာတ္မ်ဳိး လံုး၀ ေဖ်ာက္ပစ္ဖို႔ လိုတယ္....”” (၁၉၄၇ ခုႏွစ္၊ ဇူလုိင္ ၁၃ ရက္ေန႔တြင္ ေျပာၾကား ခ့ဲေသာ ဗိုလ္ခ်ဳပ္ ေအာင္ဆန္း၏ မိန္႔ခြန္းမွ ေကာက္ႏုတ္ ေဖာ္ျပ ပါသည္။)

A World Without Hegemony

I am most delighted to observe that no sane man and woman I know of has any faith in or illusions about the existing global powers, their polemics and politics. 

We no longer live in a world of any HEGEMONIC power, 'East' or 'West'. 

The continued reference to the United States as the 'hegemon' - coming from the *generally* intellectually depth-less crowd - strategic studies, policy studies, international relations, political science, etc. - is both rubbish and fantastical. 

No one in their right mind - with average intelligence - would buy into the 'rhetoric of anti-Terror, democracy and human rights' from the imperialist power that has begun its inevitable self-destruction, namely the United States. Nor is there anyone I know of who embraces empty words of 'harmony, brother-hood and friendship' shamelessly recited by Beijing. None really respects the 3 other permanent Security Council members for their leadership, humanism, and a global vision, or lack thereof. India is a Civilization only in name - and by its distant past. 

Ideologically, no one takes seriously this 'MDG' trash, including the 'eradication of extreme poverty' - whatever that means. Nowadays there is no power, no institution, no country that has hegemonic power that captures human minds. 

Not a bad thing. 

It's called 'empirical wisdom' of the masses - not cynicism. 

Name a leader or a leading organization that has earned your respect or admiration. I can't. Maybe you can.

Mandela is not a source of my inspiration, nor a guide in life.

During my formative years - 1963-1988 - Burma was a closed society. We had hardly heard of S. Africa, Mandela, apartheid. We heard more about the Arab-Israel conflicts, the Communists, the Vietnam War, etc than anything else, including the ANC. In the first half of my tender years, Mandela was a name or vocabulary I would not recognize if someone wrote it on a piece of paper and showed it to me. In other words, Mandela did not show me in any way, shape or form how to live or be an activist. 

So, I am not going to join the fawning global literate masses and the ruling elites in singing the praise of Nelson Mandela. He was a great man alright. 

Buddha Dharma has far more profound impact on my life than anything else, man or systems of thoughts. 

My parents injected in me an uncompromising love of truth. The late Aung San served as a model to be frank, brutally honest and no-nonsensical. Radical Burmese leftists and coup leaders of 1976 were an early political inspiration to 'do the right thing'. Early armed student revolutionaries from the All Burma Students Democratic Front motivated me to get involved in activism abroad, and the left-over Burmese exiles in the USA of the 1962 and 1975 waves of dissidents revolt in Burma introduced me to activism. 

Besides, the sight of 'little things' like disabled persons or a blind woman struggling to do mundane things like crossing the road, or opening the door inspires me. The little known but all too common tales of migrant workers leaving their children at home to earn living wage overseas looking after other (richer) people's children inspires me. My activist American colleagues and adopted 'brothers and sisters' have taught me more about struggles for fairness and justice than the ANC or any of its leaders. 

I am not belittling what the ANC accomplished or not accomplished in S. African majority; I am being truthful that Mandela and ANC didn't do much in terms of how I live my life, how I conduct myself as a human, a good one at that, and what it means to live one's political (and social) conscience. I am glad I am not part this fawning global throng.

The moral courage of Nelson Mandela

By Desmond Tutu

Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation as Nelson Mandela was.

He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.

That was his dream for South Africa, and the hope that he represented the world over. If it was possible in South Africa, it was possible in Ireland, it was possible in Bosnia and Rwanda, it was possible in Colombia, it is possible in Israel and Palestine.

Of course, in the spirit of ubuntu, Madiba was quick to point out that he alone could not take credit for the many accolades that came his way; that he was surrounded by people of integrity who were brighter and more youthful than himself.

That is only partially true.

The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathize with others. On top of the lessons about leadership and culture to which he was exposed growing up, and his developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, prison seemed to add an understanding of the human condition.

Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.

Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.

He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency.

He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania. He had a unique flair for spectacular, hugely symbolic acts of human greatness that would be gauche carried out by most others. Who will forget the electrifying moment in the 1995 rugby World Cup final when he stepped out on the Ellis Park pitch with captain Francois Pienaar’s No 6 on the Springbok jersey he was wearing? It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher’s sermons or politician’s speeches.

Although always a team man, Madiba was also sufficiently comfortable in his own skin, in his own ability to determine right from wrong, that he displayed few of the insecurities associated with many politicians. He was able to accept criticism – and even prepared to apologize when he felt he an apology was due.

He had the moral and ethical courage, during and after his presidency, to do and say things that were not always in accordance with the official policy of his beloved ANC.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published its findings, some of which the ANC strongly opposed, Madiba had the grace to publicly accept the report.

Another example was the establishment of South Africa’s first rural AIDS treatment site, by his foundation, at a time when the South African government was dithering and obfuscating in response to the pandemic.

When one of the TRC commissioners was accused in an amnesty hearing of being involved in the case before the commission, President Mandela appointed a judicial commission to investigate. Later, the president’s secretary called me to get the contact details of the commissioner. I realized that the president wanted to put him at ease, but I told the secretary that as the chairperson of the commission I should know the findings of the judicial commission first. Within minutes the president himself was on the line saying, “Yes, Mpilo, you’re quite right. I’m sorry.” Politicians find it almost impossible to apologize. Only truly great persons apologize easily; they are not insecure.

Can you imagine what would have happened to us had Nelson Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 bristling with resentment at the gross miscarriage of justice that had occurred in the Rivonia trial? Can you imagine where South Africa would be today had he been consumed by a lust for revenge, to want to pay back for all the humiliations and all the agony that he and his people had suffered at the hands of their white oppressors?

Instead the world was amazed, indeed awed, by the unexpectedly peaceful transition of 1994, followed not by an orgy of revenge and retribution but by the wonder of forgiveness and reconciliation epitomized in the processes of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

It came as no surprise that his name towered above those of any others when the BBC conducted a poll to determine who should head a world government to guide the affairs of our conflict-ridden global village. A colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, he was the world’s most admired and most revered public figure.

People warmed to him because they knew, they felt in their bones, that he cared genuinely. He was consumed by this passion to serve because he believed that a leader exists for the sake of the led, not for self-aggrandizement or self-promotion.

People sense this; you cannot fool them, that was why workers at the Mercedes Benz plant in the Eastern Cape presented him with a special car they had made in appreciation. That was why, when he went to Britain on his farewell state visit, the police had to protect him from the crowds, which might have crushed him out of love. Usually, heads of state are protected on state visits to ensure their safety from those who may be hostile.

His passion to serve drove him to continue his long walk so prodigally, even after retiring. Thus he campaigned vigorously for those affected by HIV and AIDS, even as the government that succeeded his appeared to falter in the face of the epidemic; and he continued to raise funds for children and other projects — all for others, and not for himself.

Did he have weaknesses? Of course he did. His chief weakness was his steadfast loyalty to his organization and to his colleagues. He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers who should have been dismissed. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.

Was he a saint? Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Thank God for this remarkable gift to South Africa and the world.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The writer is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Go to Original - Washington Post

Let's celebrate Mandala's passing!

I am not mourning for Mandela's death. 
He was 95, for god's sake. 
Pop your favorite drinks, alcohol or non-alcohol, or your favorite drugs - caffine or coke. 

Start street parties in all the capitals of the world - or any town for that matter. 

Drink, smoke, sniff, fuck to Mandela's long and fully-lived life. 

His was a life to be celebrated - not mourned. 

That's what Hunter Thomson would say, were he alived today. (He left a will to all his friends asking them to throw a party after he took his own life in Aspen, Colorado). 

Don't waste your tears for Mandela. Save them for some poor abused migrant workers, or human rights activists tortured to death somewhere RIGHT NOW, or a journalist shot dead for trying to do his or her job.

Supporting democracy in Myanmar: Are donors doing enough?

A busy port in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar's economy is booming, but the country's economic reforms do not automatically translate to democratic gains. Photo by: McKay Savage / CC BY

By Alan Davis

Myanmar is among the latest group of countries seeking membership in the Open Government Partnership, amid the government’s promise to increase accountability and public participation.

As the former colonial power and host of the recent OGP Summit in London, the United Kingdom has already offered the country’s former military leaders its help in fulfilling the necessary joining criteria, which include implementing “the highest standards of professional integrity across government; increasing public information, supporting civic participation and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.”

Given Myanmar’s record on governance and its chronic problem with corruption, which saw it rank 172 out of 176 countries in last year’s Global Corruption Barometer compiled by Transparency International, it requires a huge leap of faith to believe the country can seriously deliver on these commitments any time soon. A recent survey on global citizen engagement in government put Myanmar below Afghanistan and only just above North Korea.

The good news is that after many decades of fiscal policy influenced more by astrology than Keynesian logic, experts agree that Myanmar’s economy is finally getting back on track.

But the bad news is that economic reforms do not automatically lead to democratic gains — not even when accompanied by a measured increase in the political space — when the constitution and political backbone of the country remain essentially unchanged.

Many long-term activists and observers like Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK believe the international community is not doing enough to help Myanmar transition into a real democracy, as opposed to simply helping it develop into a much more effective authoritarian state and rising economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia.

Some even wonder if the country is being fast-tracked into the good governance family of global nations in the interests of key donors declaring “mission accomplished” — if not also in the interests of increased trade and investment opportunities.


Donor priorities are to help economic development and support reform in government. Given the pitiful state of Myanmar’s public administration, international interest has so far focused on building up the capacity of key institutions and systems.

And rightly so, because the challenge is huge.

Returning to Myanmar after 25 years and with support from the U.K. Department for International Development, the World Bank undertook the first real study into the country’s public financial management systems earlier this year and gave them the lowest possible grades (a D or a D+). The institution was unable to find enough data to score them in 22 out of 31 indicators used to measure effectiveness. Overall, the study found “a lack of strategic approach to financial management with central oversight agency engagement focusing more on low value processes and less on analysis of results and impact of spending.” It added that “budget expenditure credibility in recent years has been low,” and that “parliament does not generally have sufficient information to advise on service delivery, efficiency and effectiveness.”

Donors are at least working with the parliament in Naypyidaw and with its various committees to improve the quality and level of legislative oversight. This is very important.

Yet, given the terrible state of the fiscal system, low credibility in the institutions and the huge problem of corruption, is it realistic for donors to expect great improvement from government and a relatively new parliament alone? Doesn’t good governance require more? What about the kinds of checks and balances provided by external monitoring and engagement? What about public participation and all those other commitments stipulated by the OGP?

Shouldn’t donors be working to build the capacity of society as a whole to understand, monitor, demand and engage in fiscal and administrative reform? Isn’t building public ownership of public money ultimately one of the most sustainable and effective ways of building real accountability?

Ultimately, without informed and objective oversight and engagement taking place continously and throughout society, there is precious little chance of the government in Myanmar learning to serve the interests of the public as opposed to its own.

Crony capitalism

The last time the international community came together in such force to try and rebuild a country here in Southeast Asia was when they poured into Cambodia in the wake of the 1991 peace agreement.

But back then, rather than building the capacity of ordinary people and communities to help shape transition and ensure accountability, donor support was run almost entirely through the political elite.

Not surprisingly, Cambodia succumbed to state capture and crony capitalism of the worst kind.

Unfortunately, there is a real chance Myanmar will go the same way unless more thought is given to public participation. In October, more than a dozen international human rights wrote an open letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton complaining that the European Union was breaking its own commitments made under the Comprehensive Framework for Myanmar, which emphasized the need to engage civil society in the transition. The letter stated “while these commitments are all welcome, at present they are not being met.”

Myanmar is not even included among the group of Southeast Asian countries destined to benefit from the global and multimillion dollar “Making All People’s Voices Count” initiative being funded by DfID, USAID, SIDA and others.

To be sure, the likes of DfID and the Open Society Foundations are supporting civic attempts to monitor the extractive industries in Myanmar, and should be congratulated for doing so. But it is equally — if not more — important for donors to be improving the capacity of society to demand and ensure accountability across the public sphere.

If a citizen of Myanmar wants to learn and find out more about how public money is raised, allocated, spent, reported and audited; if he/she wishes to find out more about what kind of public money is being generated, where it is coming from, and how it is being used under this reformist government and under what authority — where does he/she start looking? If he/she wishes to start understanding and monitoring the budget process or departmental spending, what does he/she do?

Nobody knows — more than two and a half years into the reform process and given all donor activity and support to date. That’s a serious problem.

Go To Original - Devex

A More Open Myanmar

"A central policy of the regime is to attract foreign investment into the impoverished country, whose national product amounts to $2 to $3 a day per person for a population of more than 60 million. At issue now is whether Myanmar’s transition will be more than a ploy to draw in foreign money to fatten the military."

Myanmar was for years a country by, of and for the military. In 2011, the military junta officially dissolved itself, opening the way for a democratic transition under the government of President Thein Sein, a former general. A central policy of the regime is to attract foreign investment into the impoverished country, whose national product amounts to $2 to $3 a day per person for a population of more than 60 million. At issue now is whether Myanmar’s transition will be more than a ploy to draw in foreign money to fatten the military.

The military junta had run an isolationist foreign policy and Soviet-style economic planning with disastrous consequences. In the late 1990s, the United States, Europe, Japan and others imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar for its gross violation of human rights. The sanctions eventually led to the dissolution of the military junta, accompanied by the promise of press and other freedoms, as well as the release of political prisoners, notably Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. 

Since then, Myanmar has established substantially more open foreign investment laws. The Asian Development Bank opened an office there last year. And foreign investors, including many garment manufacturers, have been lured by very low labor costs to set up shop. Still, a quarter of government expenditure goes to the military, and expenditures for education and health are negligible. Most of the local partners that foreign investors team up with are companies run by the military. And the military still appoints a quarter of the members of Parliament. 

Basic infrastructure — like roads, airports and the electricity grid — is woefully inadequate, and the military is clearly expecting foreign investments. But as they consider such investments, the primary investor states — the United States, Europe, Japan — must make sure that they are not merely enabling a transition from a military dictatorship to military-run crony capitalism.

Go To Original - The New York Times