National reconciliation: An unfinished agenda

1 November 2015 07:23 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A serious, well-coordinated action plan for national reconciliation is long overdue. The war and its aftermath made such a plan imperative, in order to build bridges across long standing ethno-linguistic divisions and heal the wounds caused by the violent conflict.

The LLRC report also highlighted the need for ethnic reconciliation. Now the Geneva process has also brought the reconciliation issue to the forefront. Moreover, there is broad agreement at a societal level regarding the need for reconciliation. Yet, there are no clear signs of any effective effort being made to move in the direction of a concerted national effort.
Given the obvious significance of reconciliation in the context of post- war reconstruction, the establishment of a high profile, a well-resourced Ministry would have indicated the level of commitment of the government to national reconciliation. Instead, what we observe today is the absence of an effective national level focal point around which diverse yet related Ministries, relevant State institutions, civil society organisations and international agencies could be mobilised to develop and implement an integrated national action plan.
National reconciliation is urgent against the backdrop of the ethnic war that reinforced long standing ethno-linguistics divisions.
These divisions are the result of a whole range of historical, social, cultural and political factors. Transcending these divisions is necessary to reduce the social distance between communities and forge national unity.


 

" Even if it is going to take many years to achieve national reconciliation, the launching of a well-coordinated, national reconciliation programme backed by political will at the highest level of government itself can create a sense of hope in the minds of the hitherto marginalised and alienated sections of society."




But this is easier said than done because the divisions are continually reproduced by certain structures and processes. These are related to education, regional disparities, language, media, arts and employment.
Given the pervasive nature of the issues connected with national disunity, reconciliation efforts need to be multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral in scope.
In other words, a whole range of sectors and institutions need to contribute to a national program of reconciliation.
No single Ministry or an agency, no matter how powerful it may be, can formulate and implement such a programme.
The main reason is that there are several ministries that deal with matters pertaining to national reconciliation. So, unless these Ministries function as a well-coordinated cluster, it would be difficult to secure their optimal contribution to the national effort.
Some of the Ministries that are relevant in the above regard are Education, National Integration, Law and Order, Justice, Cultural Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Provincial Councils and Local Government, Youth Affairs, Sports, and National Planning.
Some of the interventions that are necessary to promote national integration necessitate policy and institutional reforms that take time and money.  For instance, most of our educational institutions are segregated on ethno-linguistics lines and continue to reproduce exclusive identities among children and youth. Moreover, despite change of State policy in favour of bilingualism and trilingualism, second language teaching in schools is an almost total failure.
This has serious implications because there are not many people who have the ability to work in more than one national language. As is well known, it is not easy to find people who can be employed as translators. There are also issues with school curriculum pertaining to social cohesion.




The other Ministries mentioned above no doubt have a great potential to contribute to national reconciliation but we have not been able to tap their potential.  On the other hand, if we develop and implement a joint national action plan that included envisaged policy changes and well-focused interventions in areas that come under the purview of different
Ministries,  their cumulative effect will no doubt be far reaching. Yet, in spite of the urgency of such a collective effort, it appears that the authorities have so far failed to put together a well -thought out inter-sectoral action plan that spelt out a clear vision, a set of national objectives and strategies that could help the country to achieve national reconciliation within a reasonable period of time.
Even if it is going to take many years to achieve national reconciliation, the launching of a well-coordinated, national reconciliation programme backed by political will at the highest level of government itself can create a sense of hope in the minds of the hitherto marginalised and alienated sections of society.  As indicated above, national reconciliation is a multidimensional phenomenon. It is as much socio-cultural as economic. It is necessary to provide equal opportunities to minorities living in the provinces.
This can be done only by promoting regional development in order to reduce regional disparities. The present national effort to develop the western region through the Megapolis project should set an example for the other provinces to follow, in order to develop the outlying provinces.  While the lack of investment capital will no doubt be the key constraint to regional development, it is still possible to adopt regional development strategies that are less capital intensive. I.e. Eco-tourism, agricultural diversification, rural agro-based industries and organic agriculture.


 

" We cannot afford to have a repetition of anti-State rebellions that we witnessed in the country since the early 1970s, in particular, the devastating ethnic violence that ravaged the country for more than two decades."




The process of regional reorganisation cannot be led by the Centre.  Provincial administrations should be empowered to take charge with the support of the central government and the private sector, including international cooperation.
We cannot afford to have a repetition of anti-State rebellions that we witnessed in the country since the early 1970s, in particular, the devastating ethnic violence that ravaged the country for more than two decades.
We now have a good understanding of the causes of such violence and rebellions. Unless we make a concerted effort to neutralise such causes, divisions and tensions are not going to disappear. If nothing is done, the situation can only get worse over time. It is the collective responsibility of the political leaders, intellectuals, the business community and civil society groups to take steps to avoid such a situation.
While we possess the knowledge that is required to develop policies and programmes to bring about reconciliation, what is missing is a well-articulated national plan of action based on evidence rather than whims and fancies of a few individuals.
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  • Keth Tuesday, 03 November 2015 10:34 AM

    This is a well written article.it should be translated in Tamil and Singhala and published in all mediaa to educate all Sri Lankans


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