Tuesday, September 8, 2009

န Prelude To A Civil War ?

By Harn Yawnghwe
Many were surprised by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) attack against the Kokang forces.
Some had been so preoccupied with the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi that they were not even aware of the impending crisis. Others could not understand why the Burmese military would turn against their allies who have had a cease-fire agreement for more than 20 years.
Yet others thought that the Burma Army would never dare to incur the wrath of China. After all, had the Chinese not, in June, requested Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye to maintain stability on the border? This development was especially surprising to those who were convinced that Burma is a client state of China.
This failure to anticipate events underscores the weakness of the Burmese democracy movement, in particular, and the international community, in general.
We have often failed to understand the strategy and plans of the ruling military government. We have looked at their actions through our own prisms and misinterpreted their intentions. We have tended to see SPDC pronouncements as propaganda and have not paid enough attention to what it is planning to do.
Nobody is happy with military rule in Burma so we dismiss the SPDC “road map” to democracy and its constitution. But how many of us have actually studied the constitution in detail, not to criticize it, but to see how the military actually plans to implement its “road map” policies and how we can use its plans to our advantage?

In 2004, the SPDC announced the “road map,” and last year it announced plans for an election in 2010. We were outraged when the referendum was held two weeks after Cyclone Nargis had devastated the delta and Rangoon. We would not have been surprised had we realized that Snr-Gen Than Shwe takes the “road map” seriously.
He will not allow anything to stand in its way. A series of recent events has also taken some of us unaware—he release of U Win Tin; the first ever post-1990 congress of the National League for Democracy (NLD); Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, the unseasonable attack on the Karen National Union; the attack on Kokang and now possibly an attack on the Wa.
These seem to be the random acts of a paranoid and unpredictable leader—he image we like to portray of Snr-Gen Than Shwe. But in reality, all these events have a common goal: the success of the 2010 elections. They are the rational outworking of a well-calculated and orchestrated operation plan of the SPDC.
The proposal to the ethnic cease-fire groups to transform themselves into Border Guard Forces (BGF) under the control of the Burma army is also an attempt to clear the decks before the 2010 elections. It was meant to either provoke the cease-fire groups to reject the proposal and be destroyed or frighten them into submission and acceptance of the SPDC road map.
It is clear that the BGF proposal was a provocation. This is because during the past 20 years, nothing of this matter was ever discussed with the cease-fire groups. They were told they could keep their arms and could negotiate with the newly elected government on the political terms they wanted.
Suddenly, in April they were told they had until October 2009 to decide. Analyzing the ceasefires, it is clear that the SPDC never meant to negotiate. The plan was to stop hostile action, provide incentives to entice individual commanders to split from the main groups and slowly weaken the ethnic groups to the point where they could be easily eliminated.
The cease-fire groups cannot accept the BGF because it is actually a plan to destroy the groups by attrition. But if they refuse to accept the proposal, they will be destroyed now, before the elections. The Kokang (MNDAA), the Wa (UWSA) and the Mongla (NDAA) groups rejected the BGF proposal and also refused to accept the SPDC’s road map and constitution. They do not want any changes. Therefore, if nothing changes, the SPDC will move against the UWSA and the NDAA. Which group will be attacked first will depend on the tactical advantage.
What about China? Is the SPDC not beholden to China? The short answer is—no. Whatever we may think about the SPDC, the Burma Army is very proud of the fact that it is “patriotic.” The SPDC has never danced to the tune of a foreign power. It has, rather, made foreign powers big and small dance to its tune. Since the SPDC has been largely ostracized internationally, it has had to depend on China.
But it was never happy about it. When Burma was discussed at the UN Security Council and it had to depend even more on China, the SPDC began to cultivate Russia, so that it would not be at China’s mercy. But Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s problem was solved when John Yettaw decided to take a swim. He enabled the SPDC to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi would have no role in the election, and he also enabled Than Shwe to raise the stakes and create a direct link with the Obama administration.
This in turn gave Than Shwe the card he needed to ignore China’s wishes and move against the Kokang and Wa.
If Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s calculations are correct, the SPDC will be able to wipe out the Wa and Mongla groups, and the 2010 elections can be held on a less contentious playing field according to schedule.
The unpredictable factor, of course, is how much resistance the Wa army will offer. And what the reaction of the other cease-fire groups will be. Some like the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) are in the process of negotiating with the SPDC over the BGF issue.
Other groups like the KNU and the Shan State Army (South) are watching closely to see how the battle develops. If Than Shwe’s calculations are wrong, Burma could face a period of serious instability and the 2010 elections will be jeopardized.
But on the other hand, the SPDC may have decided that the elections could actually lead to democratization, and it is trying to create a pretext to postpone the elections indefinitely.

( Harn Yawnghwe is executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office )

EBO South Asia Office : Green Park Main, New Delhi - 110016, India; Telefax + 91-11-26511207
Euro-Burma Office : (EBO)Square Gutenberg 11/2, 1000 Bruxelles, BelgiumTel: (32 2) 280 0691 / 280 2452; Fax: (32 2) 280 0310Website:

The aim of the Euro-Burma Office is to promote the development of democracy in Burma by assisting the Burmese democracy movement to prepare for a transition to democracy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

KMC Has No Alternative To Overburdened Dhapa

By S. P. Gon Chaudhuri

Garbage is gold. That's what the tonnes of waste that gets generated in Kolkata can actually be turned into. The city generates a whopping 4,000 tonnes of municipal waste, which is now being dumped at Dhapa. The present site is overburdened and KMC isn't ready with an alternative. But when the civic body does decide to switch to another place, it has to be a paradigm shift in the way it views and handles waste. Simply dumping the entire garbage is neither environment-friendly, nor commercially sound.
Had a little more attention been paid to the issue, Kolkata could have gone in for landfill engineering, where garbage is disposed scientifically in a way that prevents soil and ground water contamination and enables generation of electricity through methane extraction. But given the sheer quantity of garbage generated in Kolkata, it isn't possible to adopt landfill engineering, as it requires a large tract of land, which one cannot locate near the city.
Moving away will not serve the purpose, as transportation cost of garbage will go up, and so will pollution. The way forward for Kolkata is to go in for refuse derived fuel (RDF) technology, where waste is segregated into biodegradable and non-degradable segments. The biodegradable portion can be dried to form cakes for use as fuel in boilers that generate electricity. Some of it can also be used in making bricks. There is also plasma technology,
which entails combustion of biodegradable waste at very high temperature, so that there is no pollution. Given the amount of pollution in Kolkata, the city can seriously look at this technology that has been adopted in all major cities in the world, including Washington DC, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Of the 4,000 tonnes of waste generated in Kolkata, at least 40% should be biodegradable. If properly utilized, I believe it is possible to generate 40 MW of electricity from the refuse. The non-degradable portion can be sorted to recycle ferrous and non-ferrous metals. The rejects can be processed into compost or mixed with stones to go in for brick-making.
One can convert the mounds of rubbish into hillocks that develop into destination points like Swabhumi and PC Chandra Gardens have come up on rubbish heaps.

(The author is managing director, West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poor Could Gain From Financial Crisis :

By Muhammad Yunus
San Jose, California, USA, 14 November : The global financial crisis can become an opportunity to help the world's worst off, says the Nobel Peace Prize laureate known as the "banker to the poor."
World leaders could encourage new types of lending that would let the poor take themselves out of poverty without the risks of the traditional system that has just failed, said Professor Muhammad Yunus. Yunus was awarded the Nobel in 2006 along with "microcredit" & "bangladesh Grameen Bank", which he founded in his native Bangladesh in 1983.
The bank has lent more than $7 billion, in tiny increments of a few dollars to a few thousand at a time, to millions of poor borrowers -- almost all women -- to run small businesses. Seamstresses would be lent money to buy a sewing machine or cloth, for example.
"This is the disaster of a lifetime, and disasters are very painful, but it's also an opportunity," Yunus said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday. "There's lots of thing you don't do in a normal period, you keep on piling up problems. Now you can address it fundamentally."
The crisis, he said, was created by a handful of people driven by "extreme greed," but "it's the poor people, the bottom half, 3 billion people, who'll be hit the hardest through no fault of their own."
Although an eager capitalist, Yunus has long warned about the excesses of globalization and free markets unchecked by regulation. The recent meltdown of markets around the globe has only reinforced his belief that the world needs a regulatory structure, like a world central bank, to referee a financial system that is inextricably linked.
He also argued for new accounting and legal standards that would allow for a second separate industry, so-called "social businesses" such as Yunus' own Grameen Bank, to emerge.
Yunus said President-elect Barack Obama is in a unique position to "create his own history" and rebuild the financial system in such a way that an entirely new class of companies, driven by both profit motive and a desire to improve society, can be launched.
Yunus was in Silicon Valley to receive the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award as part of the Tech Awards. The award's past recipients include Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates and Intel Corp co-founder Gordon Moore.
Grameen accepts no funds from outside donors, and finances all its loans from deposits. It does not require any collateral. Borrowers in groups of five self-regulate each other, ensuring repayment.
The bank claims a loan recovery rate of 98 percent.
The success of the bank has spurred similar efforts around the world, including Grameen America, which said its bank loans have just topped $1 million, with 380 borrowers getting loans of about $1,500 to $2,500.
The bank's U.S. push has been met with some skepticism that the Grameen model would work here. But the 68-year-old Yunus said the financial crisis has proved that social businesses like Grameen are actually more sound than traditional banks.
"They say 'total reliance on collateral and lawyers and it is 100 percent foolproof, nothing can go wrong.' And built a whole system on that belief. And this disaster has proven everything wrong."
"At the same time a parallel system has been growing which is microcredit. No collateral, no lawyers. Even this huge big financial earthquake can't shake them."
When it comes to helping the poor, Yunus argues for entrepreneurism over charity or government assistance, believing it to be self-sustaining.
"If people lose jobs where do they go? Do they fall back on welfare? ... If lending money, $2,200 to a person, can create a job, self-employment, isn't it a better idea?"
Yunus believes technology has been crucial to the microcredit movement by effectively shrinking the globe.
He notes that the mobile phone is now everywhere, in even the world's poorest villages and envisions a time in the near future where the simple device is used to connect the poor to health care access, banking and other services.
"What other crazy things will happen, it's almost impossible to imagine right now in 15 years what this one little gadget can do."

(With Reuters)