The back to basics economy is nothing to scoff at | Daily News


The back to basics economy is nothing to scoff at

A sweeping reversal of Coca Colonization by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government is leading many ‘Coca-marked’ people to culture shock. Coca colonization was a term invented by the French to label the multi-national takeover of the French economy in the few decades after the advent of globalization.

The term came to generally signify the takeover, and often the takedown of self-sustaining economies through an infusion of international capital. Coca-colonization hit the small men first, but the urban sophisticates in societies that were afflicted didn’t know they were being taken down as well. That’s the nature of economic hit jobs. Sometimes the victims idolize the victimizer, and maybe it could be called the Stockholm syndrome in the godforsaken world of multi-national politics.

There is a nice ring to it when the President is talking at length to State officials about the exciting possibilities of export of palmyra products. Coca-colonized minds are feeling dizzy if not disoriented.

The President switched onto explaining the human elephant conflict which the Colombo conservationists look at as purely an ‘usurper’ issue where the humans are the villains. Villagers do not see it that way. Human settlements are to blame for disrupting elephant habitats, but try telling that to villagers, especially those attacked in territories they have occupied for generations while having their breadwinners killed by displaced elephants that seek alternate habitats through hitherto unused corridors.

But the Coca colonized minds do not see these things as being their problems; they see dumb human victims and even dumber animal victims that they look at as bemused ‘exhibits.’ Such as for instance, an elephant carcass as exhibit A in a Court case, for instance.

Sometimes, they literally see wildlife victims as exhibits and nothing else. The black leopard that was caught in a trap recently was stuffed in a taxidermy effort undertaken by the wildlife experts. The picture they took with the huge stuffed cat is what’s telling. Someone with a sense of humor quipped that the charismatic animal that was looking like John Cena ended up looking like John Amaratunga after the taxidermy job. I tend to agree, with all due apologies to that tired political grandee. As for the wildlife authorities in the picture, they looked on as if they were the cats that had caught the canaries.


It’s what we humans, the grand schemers do to our natural habitats. So when there is talk at length of palmyra export and tackling the human elephant conflict when a President addresses the public service, it seems someone collectively brought us back down to Earth, when we had been fantasizing for years on end about an economy on steroids.

The Central Bank staff feigns shock when they are asked to do something. They secretly invoke their right to independence and all that jazz. It took a pep talk on television by the President for the Central Bank officers to acknowledge at least up to an extent that they have to think of ways to keep the Covid-hit economy going. They had to ensure that Banks were extended the contingency Central Bank facilities to enable easy term credit for Covid-hit customers.

The lesson though is that at the macro-level the President is constantly met with roadblocks. There seems now to be an emphasis on back to basics enterprises with minimal external input, such as the palmyra and clay based industries to obviate these barriers that gatekeepers of the economy at the Central Bank and other institutions seem to insist on.

It’s a good guess that this Government will be able to follow through with these plans, because sustainable industry means upsetting apple-carts and disrupting vested interests.

A case in point: the previous Government under the UNP leadership announced a total polythene ban and of course with the economy not facing any globally pervasive pandemic threat at that time, the rationale was totally environment based. But the polythene magnates rebelled.

The phasing out of all polythene wrapping products was abandoned. This time, the banning of products is more rationally thought out. Single use plastic sachets, yoghurt spoons, plastic water bottles etc are to be banned from 2021.

The news is that these bans will tie in with the attempt to create alternative products using local degradable raw materials. This writer is not aware of details but the push, apparently, is for clay and other such locally based produce to replace many of these single use plastic items.

Colombo based punditry is bound to resist for the simple reason that the Colombo city voter base is incapable of thinking of the rural voter as a human being, period. If that observation sounds too catch-all and unfair, it isn’t, because this insensitivity was apparent from all conversations this writer had with the hard core Colombo UNP voters before the two elections that were concluded this year and in 2019.

These hard coreright wing UNP voters used to tell me point blank that the rural voter will go with the SLPP, with the implication being that the enlightened Colombo voter will not be that stupid. There was an entreaty there as well — they were saying, if you do not want to be identified with the yokels who have no clue, vote with us.


But it is not really a case of seeing all rural locals as yokels. They just couldn’t be bothered about the rural voters, and that’s it. If they believed that the rural voters would vote SLPP, they would have at least in their hearts of hearts imagined that these voters as having a unique set of problems that only the SLPP would be able to address. Among these would have been issues such as selling local produce at passable prices, or tackling the human elephant conflict. But these voters were not considered human enough for their concerns to matter. Their outlook towards life did not merit a passing thought on the part of the Colombo right wing diehards.

Today, post Covid, the rural producer seems to be the only redemption for an economy that has no expectation of securing foreign markets, or securing tourism revenue at economically meaningful levels. Even so, the rural voter is seen as not being good enough to be the engine of an economy, even when times are really bad.

That’s why there are so many mocking sounds at the mention of a Ministry for clay based produce, or an effort to export palmyra based produce.

Nobody is saying that the big players in economic growth are being ignored. But can anyone say with any conviction that the tourism markets or the markets for luxury clothing etc are going to rebound anytime soon? One thing the voters were not taken in by was the banshee campaign screaming that the country will go back to the 70s era of irrational import bans.


Ranil Wickremasinghe now from his cosy stay at home political vista could ruminate on some of his election scare tactics. He said that helmets cannot be manufactured here, so motorcyclists would have to get around with a tin wrapped around their heads. He said something similarly bizarre about handphones.

The rural voter had plans, and they were tied to some faith in the nationalist credentials of the SLPP. A national-minded Government that was able to mount a sustained campaign to get rid of a blatantly anti-national Government, they figured, could get the economy to function within a nationally sustainable local framework. People saw that the Government was ready to take a chance with local produce. The price increase of tinned fish, almost counter intuitive in a time of hardship was an article of faith in this regard. But Colombo diehards would still be able to enjoy their smoked salmon in five star luxury if they really have to — and that’s the beauty of it.

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