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Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Leadership for reconciliation and development

It has been argued that there are six phases in the evolution of conflict situations - malaise, incipient crisis, denied conflict, open conflict, war, and reconciliation and reconstruction. Of these, arguably the most challenging and complex are the last. Tensions easily arise between reconciliation needs, development ambitions and politics in a post-conflict state. Hence managing a post-conflict environment in a state requires exceptional leadership.

Therefore, in the immediate aftermath of an election – with a clear mandate from the people, and a manifesto which emphasised the need for reconciliation and engagement of all communities – the time is right for his Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa to articulate and deliver on a new style of leadership.

There is the delicate task of finding a way to balance issues such as truth and justice so that the slow transformation of behaviour, attitudes and emotions between victims and perpetrators can take place. The pragmatic work of building relationships and confidence needs to work in tandem with the restoration of communities, infrastructure and livelihoods.

From the outset, a clearly articulated vision is needed – one which acknowledges the past, depicts the future, and both recognises and responds to the needs of all communities. And this vision needs to be both appropriate and achievable. As seen in Eritrea in the 1990s, reintegration was only successful when planned and implemented within the broader context of rehabilitation, which in turn is seen as part of a long-term development concept.

The leadership needs to demonstrate, and deliver on, a relevant and well-planned strategy. Moreover, that strategy needs to be integrated, recognising how development can be used as a vehicle to enable reconciliation.

Another example would be the Municipal and Economic Development Initiative (MEDI) of Bosnia and Herzegovina. MEDI was designed to create democratic, non-profit associations serving a variety of community needs – including small business development, and improvements in quality of life and financial services – and in so doing, it increased tolerance and cooperation between people who had been polarized around ethnicity and brutalised by war through a program of economic development.

Not dissimilarly the setting up of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD) in Sierra Leone was predicated on formally coupling the proceeds of economic gain with reparation for victims – establishing a special Treasury account for proceeds from transactions involving diamonds and other natural resources to be reinvested back into society, such as by providing compensation to those incapacitated by war – so progressing the mutual goals of development and reconciliation.

Leadership in a post-conflict environment needs to be not merely well-planned and integrated, but unprejudiced too. It needs to acknowledge all communities and their needs, and to demonstrate empathy and benefit for each of these communities – and for the state as a whole. Not just the powerful or the majority. There are countless examples of how leadership can be abused. Among them the land occupations in Zimbabwe stands out.

Sri Lankan leadership style is traditionally authoritarian, posing the danger that – if translated through to the post-conflict leadership map of Sri Lanka – development might be purely macro in nature, and any reconciliation initiatives imposed on the country. The leadership must draw on other facets of Sri Lankan culture – such as a collectivist and participative approach to reaching consensus. Such a style would naturally tend to be a more participative developmental approach and would suggest that all elements of society have the same underlying desire for stability.

Whilst Sri Lanka has a history of authoritarian leadership, it has also set precedents of participative approaches, with leadership delegated to, or at least shared at, a micro level. Vidler’s (2000, The Rise and Fall of Government - Community Partnerships for Urban Development: Grassroots Testimony from Colombo) account of community partnerships for urban development, for example, tells of a radical break from conventional, top-down approaches within the government’s Million Houses Program during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

‘Community development councils and a participatory methodology known as community action planning meant that residents and community leaders worked with government officers to identify problems, set priorities and develop solutions’. Such a precedent, applied in a different context, is perhaps precisely what Sri Lanka needs in driving forward its ambitions for both development and reconciliation. In this regard, the international community has an important role to play in helping to establish a post-conflict environment which is conducive to effective reconciliation and development, and supportive of responsible leadership.

This requirement is highlighted by Vesna Bojicic-Dzelilovic in his article World Bank, NGOs and the Private Sector in Post-War Reconstruction (Newman, E & Schnabel, A 2002, Recovering from Civil Conflict: Reconciliation, Peace, and Development) in which he argues that the international community’s engagement in economic reconstruction and development cannot be viewed in isolation, and that greater appreciation of broader factors are required if entities driving economic development are to engage effectively.

Foremost of these is a greater understanding of socio-political change underlying contemporary conflicts and the effect this may have on both the roles and the rules of engagement of developmental and private sector bodies. In order to establish these off-shore relationships and to enable reconciliation and post-conflict development an effective leadership which could not only be trusted by the local but also the international community is undoubtedly essential in Sri Lanka.

Certainly, this applies at the macro level; for as Funabashi (2003, Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific) states, ‘whatever vision is pursued, the process of reconciliation over the past will not move forward without appropriate political leadership of a high intellectual and moral calibre’ Yet it also applies at a micro level; since it is up to the local communities the individuals to rise up to make the most profound democratic transformation of the social order which would bring about lasting peace. The fact that a ‘silent nation, silence the nation’ should not be forgotten by us Sri Lankans.


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