Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest Author Posting By Anthony Ware

Context-Sensitive Development
Anthony Ware

How do you write an up-to-date book about a context that is changing as fast as Myanmar? I commenced research for this book several years ago, and began writing  my findings in earnest during 2010 and 2011. However, as anyone at all familiar with Myanmar will know, political and social change has been unexpectedly rapid in this country over the last 18 months or so, making it difficult but most important to keep checking and updating the research and findings right up until the final hour before printing. Accordingly, the last revisions were made to the text in late July 2012, for an early October book launch date!

On the back of numerous visits to the country between 1992 and  2007, and a lot of reading about the history and context over the years, I commenced formal research specifically for this project during an extended visit in 2009. I have had several visits since, but that initial research period was about a year after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country at a loss of some 140,000 lives, an event which greatly change the involvement of international actors in Myanmar. Actually, the cyclone itself was not a significant factor motivating my research; to me the challenge was more about understanding how we foreigners could most effectively assist in poverty alleviation within such an enigmatic context. Poverty in Myanmar has been amongst the worst in Asia, and the state in Myanmar has long been highly bureaucratic, authoritarian, incompetent and often brutal. Complicating the issue, however, Myanmar has also long been greatly suspicious of Western motives, while itself being sanctioned by Western governments over human rights violations and a failure to respect the democratic voice of the people. How do we help alleviate poverty in such a context? That was what I set out to document.

Unexpectedly, just as I was in the midst of writing up my research, military strongman Senior General Than Shwe resigned as president. This event, of course, paved the way for the now-familiar reforms under new president Thein Sein, something we are all very pleasantly surprised to see coming to partial fruition. I had been aware that the November 2010 elections were to be held, but I did not give them must consideration. Along with most of the international community, I was taken completely by surprise when Than Shwe resigned to allow a more civilian government to form, and even more surprised by the content of Thein Sein's March 2011 inaugural speech, which outlined an ambitious reform agenda. Without taking anything away from my discussion of this in the book, let me just say that from his first speech, Thein Sein has set a very different path to that of his predecessor.

While the reforms which began to take shape over the months following Thein Sein taking power were extremely welcome, they had major ramifications for me as an author in the middle of a book about the country. Naturally, I was immediately nervous that my research and findings might become irrelevant. Thus I planned several follow-up visits during 2011 and 2012 to remain up with the changes, and consider their impact on the work of international NGOs in the country.

So I found myself back in Yangon in July 2011. I remember feeling quite frustrated at the difficulty I was having securing appointments with the Australian ambassador, the AusAID team, and others, when then news came out that Kevin Rudd, then Australian foreign minister, had arrived to assess the reform; the first Western ministerial-level visit to Myanmar in decades. I hardly minded not getting an appointment that week! (Although I was delighted to receive an invitation for an appointment with the ambassador the week after he left.)

I returned again in December 2011, just in time for Hillary Clinton's visit. It was quite interesting to find myself in a house in Insein district, chatting about her major speech to the press with local informants just the morning after the speech. As it turns out, I then flew back into the country during the second week of April 2012, just after the by-elections that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) elected to parliament. It was a privilege to be sitting with local residents in one of the electorates won by the NLD just a week after the election, and able to talk about their reactions to the by-election. But I did start getting a little paranoid foreign political leaders were stalking me when UK Prime Minister David Cameron appeared in the country that same week. Not that I got to see him personally, of course! What capped it all off, though, was travelling back to Myanmar yet again in June 2012, to make the final edits to the manuscript, and find that yet again I was there within days of the visit by the new Aus­tralian, Senator Carr, as he announced ground-breaking policy changes and new aid commitments by Australia.

Watching these events unfold, largely from a position inside the country, gave me the opportunity to monitor the changes closely, and incorporate these into the manuscript right up to the last moment it was sent to the printer. I have to say, Kumarian were wonderful with this – so flexible in trying to deliver the most relevant and up-to-date book to readers. The final edits sent through were dated 24 July 2012, and included several updates and an Afterword. Thank you so much to Jennifer, McKinley, Jim and everyone at Kumarian for your flexibility and encouragement in this endeavor.

Context-Sensitive Development is available for purchase through Kumarian Press. To receive review and/or exam copies, please contact Marketing Associate Jennifer Kern:


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