|Saturday, 8 March 2003|
The World Bank ... part 2 : Sustaining the 'growth with war' myth
by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake
On the other hand, the devastation of war in the North and East, gave credence to LTTE claims that they had nothing more to lose and hence must fight an opponent intent on decimating them to the end. The war years made clear the domestic policy is increasingly a global affair. As the country became increasingly dependent on aid to fight the war the international financial institutions and successive governments pursued a neo-liberal policy of economic restructuring.
As privatisation appeared to sustain the myth of growth with war, a number of other local and micro-conflicts were displaced upon the over determined war between the military and the LTTE. The myth of growth with war was rudely shattered by the LTTE attack on the airport and the manner in which the economic growth entered a negative for the first time in its post/colonial history.
International measures, indexes and observations of "success" or "failure" of nation-states, economies, or people, have their own logic. They establish authoritative descriptions, and construct truths about "national" progress or regress. Indeed a number of theorists of development and developmentalism (Escobar 1995, Nandy 1983, Gupta 1998) have noted, that in the trajectory of "world development", peoples, nations, regions, and the "Third World" have come to see themselves as more or less developed/ underdeveloped, and more or less in need of development, or social capital, or institutions, or better governance, or globalization etc.
They have also suggested that development processes might actually de-develop societies, and have traced how development indicators may conceal increasing economic inequalities and social and regional polarization.
In countries with skeptical publics, information from international development and financial institutions are sometimes given greater authority because of the presumption that they may be more independent and accurate than government's figures. In turn, these authoritative indexes, measures, and narrative of developmental progress or regress configured local perceptions of local conditions. Sometimes, these constructions and their policy agendas elicit counter-reactions and ethno-nationalist back- lashes. In noting this dynamic of how a country may be measured, evaluated, and restructured for world development, my purpose is not to suggest that poor people or armed conflicts do not exist. Rather it is to mark how poverty qua poverty, or conflict qua conflict, are constituted as objects of and for analysis and developmental-relief intervention (read power/knowledge), and how such interventions are legitimated.
In the late nineties as the war escalated in Sri Lanka local and global political-economic processes and imperatives configured the dominant representation and interpretation of the conflict-development nexus in Sri Lanka, that growth with war was possible. The notion that war with growth was possible is a corollary of the economic reductionism that characterizes the argument that "violence is economically rational" and it is greed rather than grievance that fuels conflicts (Collier et al., 2001). 1997-98 were years when the Bank and IMF were increasingly critiqued on the crisis and escalating social violence in the Asian Tiger economies.
Internally, in the World Bank, Stiglitz had criticized IMF policies and suggested that developmental macro-policy may fuel and deepen the crisis and ensuing violence in South East Asia (Stiglitz: 1997, 1998, Wade: 2000). In this context, success stories even in conflict-torn societies were needed. In "Missed Opportunities", the World Bank's Sri Lanka country report in 2000 suggested that Sri Lanka is a relative success in terms of economic liberalization and structural adjustments.
A story of operative fictions and mutual entrapment between international financial institutions and a government fighting a dirty war (given that national economic policy is increasingly globally configured), amidst an increasingly dysfunctional democracy emerges in the myth that "growth with war" was possible in Lanka. This entrapment in turn sustained the war dynamic which developed self-sustaining momentum (Rajasingham - Senakayake 2001). The myth was shattered after the LTTE attack on Katunayake airport in July 2001, that impacted on sectors dependent on external markets, particularly trade, tourism, and shipping and the growth figures dipped from 5% into negative digits overnight. This entrapment may continue with the peace dynamic too with the Government and Bank promoting an unsustainable neo-liberal peace.
The myth that growth with war was possible was also enabled by the history of perception of the island as an "outlier" in the fifty-year-old "world development" discourse. Sri Lanka had always followed the path of the unexpected. At independence in 1948, armed conflict was not on the island's development agenda. The island's social indicators that were the best in the South Asian region despite very low per capita income, placed it in the category of "outlier" in the development discourse for decades. Moreover, a multilingual, multiethnic, multi-faith, and multicultural land, Ceylon as it was called then, had been considered a "model democracy" until the mid-eighties.
In the years of the conflict, growth in the South despite a debilitating armed conflict in the North-East further buttressed Sri Lanka's standing as an "outlier" in the world development discourse, and enabled the perception that it was land of "missed opportunities". The "outlier" perception of Sri Lanka masked the island's de-development and deep regional divisions that fuel the armed conflict in the island.
Indeed, it is arguable that the regional disparity between the conflict- affected North-East and the rest of the island constituted one of the biggest challenges of peace building and development, even as the central barrier to human development in Sri Lanka may be the information divide and information lacuna. The engineering of information and the resulting ignorance generated at the highest levels of policy and opinion making on the national impacts of the war was one of the reasons that the war escalated to dire proportions, without giving rise to an anti-war peace movement in the late nineties.
Post/conflict reconstruction, a growth sector in the world development industry led by the Bretton Woods institutions is about information asymmetries, global-local hierarchies of knowledge and power and the marketing of myths and models of development. Recognition by the development policy community that Sri Lanka was a "complex emergency" and that violent conflicts could undo years of development achievements, has not entailed acknowledgement of the converse process: that the macro-policies and practices of (uneven) development may also structure and fuel domestic political-economic transformations and social polarization leading to violent conflicts.
Possible linkages between development processes that exacerbated social inequality and a number of societa tensions (JVP and LTTE youth uprisings), contributed to over determine the North-South "ethnic" divide in the island, and hence the need for mainstreaming conflict analysis into development policy and planning are hardly acknowledged.
There is a need to link macro-policies of development to the local war economy in the conflict zone, rather than treating them as separate.It is arguable that trans-historical "ethnic" readings of the violence in Sri Lanka and neo-liberal myths that "growth with war" is possible in the dependent economies of the global South have obscured issues of economic and social inequality that structured the 2 decades-long armed conflict in the North and South of Sri Lanka. They also obscured how the war had transformed the Island's society and political economy. But issues of political representation and economic justice are inextricably linked: self-determination will remain an unfulfilled promise without economic and social rights.
After the initial de-politicization that the peace process necessitated, it would be necessary to move on and deal seriously with political economic issues by linking civil and political issues of demilitarisation and de-escalation with social justice issues or economic and social rights.
Produced by Lake House