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17 September 2012
It is almost the perfect timing, Deakin University academic and expert on Myanmar, Dr Anthony Ware launches a book on how development can be done effectively in the country just as the Federal Government announces it will more than double its aid to the country to $100 million per year by 2015.
The book Context-Sensitive Development - How International NGOs Operate in Myanmar is based on his PhD thesis which looked at how international NGOs carry out development in the complex country.
“Development is a difficult endeavour in any environment,” Dr Ware said.
“But it is much more so in places such as Myanmar which has had the “perfect storm” of challenges - extreme poverty, international sanctions, political repression and human rights violations.
“As if this wasn’t enough, the global approaches adopted by development organisations themselves often conflict with the approaches long-term fieldworkers and local people know should be applied.
“Yet development can be effectively implemented in Myanmar, and hopefully the lesson learned from Myanmar can be applied elsewhere.”
Interestingly the Federal Government’s announcement comes two years after Dr Ware called for aid to be tripled to the country as part of his winning presentation for the Three Minute Thesis competition.
Dr Ware said the Federal Government’s announcement opened up questions regarding how should Australia spend the money and how fast did it really need to do so.
“It also opens up the question of how fast we can realistically expect change in the political values of the ruling elite?” he said.
Dr Ware sees a number of priorities on how the money could be spent to best effect – particularly working in partnership with local organisations and communities, but also in building the capacity of particular government agencies.
“Top of the list would be improving the health and the education system across community,” he said.
“Myanmar has 90 per cent literacy but the education system is a 19th Century education system.
“Primary and secondary education must be improved.”
Dr Ware said tertiary education also needed a multidisciplinary university environment to be created between the different sectors.
“Community-level education is also essential,” he said
“As the situation improves, communities will need critical thinking and planning skills to control their own future. ‘’
Dr Ware would also fund programs which improved infrastructure and developed community and civil society empowerment.
“In Australia, we often try to get change from our government by embarrassing them for a mistake and forcing them to back down, but this approach is not going to work in Myanmar,” he said.
Dr Ware cited a program funded by Oxfam which helped fishermen in the Ayerawady Delta win back fishing rights they had lost 20 years previously.
“They were able to achieve this because the program worked with the fishermen, helped them understand the situation, and developed their skills so they could speak to the government in the right way.
“It’s education in a broader sense.”
Dr Ware said while it was important to alleviate poverty, “GDP doesn’t necessarily go up because you have taught the poor.”
"As my book shows, development in Myanmar is more successful if we gain the cooperation of the elite to implement policies that help the poor.
“There are very real sensitivities, and in a country like Myanmar you need to be especially aware of these to implement effective policy.”
Dr Ware said Myanmar was a ‘rich country’ with stocks of natural gas, tin, zinc, copper, rubies, sapphires, and the best jade in the world, as well as fertile soil.
“It has the capacity to be a net food exporter, particularly as the world starts to face its next food crisis,” he said.
“Like Australia it has good resources and could change into a middle income country relatively quickly, if the politics are right.”
Dr Ware said Cyclone Nargis, coupled with a reformist President, had paved the way for Aung San Suu Kyi to take her seat in Parliament but the process was still very fragile.
“The reforms are hanging on three people, the Myanmar President Thein Sein, Speaker of the Lower House Thura Shwe Mann and Aung San Suu Kyi, who are all coordinating their actions and cooperating.
“If you remove one or two of these from the scene there are still a lot of hardliners who would want to undo any reforms.”
Dr Ware’s next project will be comparing the lessons of development in Myanmar with those experienced in countries like Zimbabwe, Pakistan, North Korea, Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea.
Deakin Media Relations
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Dr Anthony Ware