In ancient times, Rakhine Kingdoms were both economically and historically related with Eastern India. Thus, Indian civilization had great influence on the Rakhine people. For centuries, Arakan kingdom can maintain political independence but in 1784, it was invaded by the Burmese.
With the consequences of the first Anglo-Burmese war which broke out in 1824, Rakhine came under the British rule. When Myanmar gained independence in 1948, Rakhine became an integral part of the union of Myanmar; but, a statehood to represent Rakhine ethnic nationality was not recognized in the Independence charter.
Democratization and 2008 Constitution
Burmese military elites always denied and neglected the political demands of NLD and allied ethnic parties to implement the verdict of 1990 election.
After the worst conditions of cyclone Nargis, 2008 constitution came to live in Burmese political arena. Most of the political activists, especially ethnic factions are greatly disappointed because the constitution is actually a hybrid and pseudo-federal, sham federal constitution in order to maintain the interest of the Burmese military regime. But, on the other hand, it is an opportunity for the voiceless and political platform-less ethnic people. As a matter of fact, ethnic democratic parties are formed poorly equipped plus weak financial support under the 2008 constitution.
Even though election-boycott idea is overwhelming the whole country given the fact that the election is not free and fair plus it is full of fraud, Ethnic Parties took victory in their representative states. Rakhine people bravely voted for RNDP with ethnic nationalism hoping for the change, and they won 35 seats: 18 in state level, 7 in upper house, 9 in lower House, and 1 in Rangoon Region for the Minister for Rakhine Affairs.
Victory of 18 seats out of 34 in State level does win majority in the state level: the endorsed military quota of 12 seats + any number of seats won by the junta-backed USDP party would depreciate RNDP victory to a minority party in the State’s Parliament. Premier and Speaker were appointed from USDP by the President. In the State Cabinet, only 3 ministers are chosen from M.Ps of RNDP. Thus, RNDP has no capability to decide and handle the political and developmental issues of Rakhine land. The ruling party is USDP and political power is in their hand. The newly elected cabinet of Rakhine state is a weak one: it is lack of capacity, lack of transparency plus it is very centralized and dictated from Nay Pyi Taw.
RNDP and Rakhine people are always demanding to set up a gas turbine running by the natural gas for whole State electricity access. In Schedule 2 of the Constitution, medium and small scale electric power plants are allowed.
In one case of Holy Relics findings in MraukOo, it is very apparent for centralism. The relics found from ancient broken pagodas were maintained by the local archaeological department to send to Ministry of Culture in Nay Pyay Taw. Local people opposed and don't let it be taken. Disputes and demonstrations happened when they took it forcefully to Nay Pyay Taw. Finally, the central government has to agree to maintain the relics in a local monastery. It is positive, but, the rights of management on preservation of cultural heritages are actually in the hand of the minister level authority.
In the case of Tourism, with the openness of politics, tourism has begun to boom in Myanmar. Rakhine is a land of beauty and ancient heritage and MraukOo is a showcase of Rakhine cultural and historical significance. Tourism is now banned for Rakhine without logical reasons by authority. The people of Rakhine incur double losses from such uneducated policy: first, we lost potential tourism revenues and second, we lost the opportunity to exhibit our splendid identity to the foreign visitors and scholars.
|17 townships of Yakhine State in Burma.|
Most analysts from abroad (may say West) conclude that Myanmar is on the right track. In his inauguration speech of March 30, 2012, newly elected President U Thein Sein urged all parties to work together for national interest and announced his commitment for Good Governance and Clean Government concerning reforms. The government declared the first step of reform is on political change and national reconciliation: they initiated the peace process with ethnic armies. Second was an economic reform: Foreign Direct Investment Law was enacted in Parliament. Third step is reform of administration. And in fact, in December, the elections for village-tract administrators are all over the country, and disputes are arising in rural area where the local pro-USDP and pro army people have ruled for decades.
In Rakhine State, the administration is running not dissimilar to the era of military rule and, officials are still corrupted and suffering kleptomania, so they are just a strategic tool of state ruling mechanism to manipulate and suppress the ordinary grassroots people.
Rakhine is very rich in natural resource especially hardwood timber, oil & gas, agriculture, and fishery resources. The old and new government harvested billions of dollars by selling gas to China. Despite greatly rich in natural resources, there is absolutely no electricity in rural areas, and the idea of 24-hour electricity rather appears to be a dream for Rakhine people in 21st century. And, where it is accessible in the urban areas, the cost per electric unit is very expensive: it is 10 times greater than that of Yangon and other cities in central Myanmar. Rakhine People feels that they are always marginalized and suppressed by successive central Burmese government. Rich in natural resources, pleasant with coastal blue waters and beautiful beaches, green with beautiful mountains, Rakhine people remains unindustrialized with 43.5% of the whole Rakhine population living under the poverty line according to a 2011 survey by UNDP.
Under the British rule, they introduced modern institutions and infrastructures to Rakhine, so Arakan flourished to some extent in important sectors. Rakhine people have never enjoyed their national democratic rights, all remote rural area are underdeveloped and poverty-stricken with very little health and education facilities and services. Very few humanitarian aids for the poorest people, and in fact, many remotes areas are highly inaccessible to aids for various reasons. Everything is managed by central government and, the local people never have a chance to decide on the allocation of their resources.
By illegal logging of Cronies backed by military elites, Rakhine Mountains and natural forests greatly suffered deforestation and other environmental disasters. In archeologically significant areas, damages to such historically important areas are already done by so called development projects of the government.
Rakhine area receives a very rich of rainfall of nearly 200 inches (5.08 m), but Rakhine farmers can cultivate only one crop of rice in the whole year. And, to get clean water is very difficult in rural areas in the summer and only about 40% of the State’s population can use clean water regularly. Forced labour, forced confiscation, forced relocation was very familiar to the Rakhine people, but now it becomes less to some extent.
In Rakhine, fisheries Zones are divided and fixed by the Department of Fishery. And auction by state government. Local people living near by the creeks and rivers have no right to earn their living freely on water. RNDP always opposes and try to negate this policy in State Parliament. In the end of 2012, this policy had been abolished in the State Parliament. But the Chief of Minister is trying to exercise this policy by saying the loss of revenue for the government.
|Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP).|
In the meantime, the civil war in Burma, the longest in the world is still flaring in some areas. Most of the ethnic armed forces made ceasefire with the government and they are preparing and waiting for political dialogue. Myanmar is a multinational (multi-lingual + multi-ethnic) state, with variety of ethnic nationalities with their own identities. So in Myanmar, democracy and ethnic issue is just like head and tail of a coin, they can’t be separated. As the long rooted problems became more complicated, the idea that only democracy can alone solve the whole issue is not pragmatic.
If the constitutions is not federal in a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, democracy is the not the perfect solution because democracy is in one part, rule of majority (the essence of democracy).
All ethnic people are happy to live together peacefully: however when there is no choice left in handling unfairness, the radical desire to secede from the union may arise. All are calling for practicing federalism. Federalism can guarantee equality, peace and development. Federalism can end civil war. Without federalism, sustainable peace cannot be achieved. No peace, No development, No democracy.
In old days, federalism is a haunting ghost and a term of political taboo in Myanmar politics, for the false interpretation (perception) that federalism is to disintegrate the country. The main obstacle for practicing federalism is 2008 constitution. Some scholars pointed out that 2008 constitutions is a federal framework and it is required to be amended. So, constitutional amendment is crucial for peaceful and united country.
Constitutional change is not an easy task. To amend some provisions, it is necessary for the prior approval of more than the 75 % of all the representatives of Union Parliament and after which in the nation-wide referendum only with the vote of more than half of those who are eligible vote.
Political reform without constitutional change can not lead to all round development, conflict resolution and peaceful solution for ethnic nationalities.
All political forces are very enthusiastic to discuss that and now the leading Burmese ex-military elites come to say about constitutional amendment and federalism openly. Now workshops and seminars are being held on the topics of decentralization and federalism in Yangon political circles.
The political will, sincerity and democratic commitment of the top leaders in cabinet and parliaments will determine the future of Myanmar.
Politics of Rakhine: Power sharing, Resource sharing
In his 30 March 2011 inauguration speech, President U Thein Sein addressed the ethnic issues speaking of “The hell of the untold stories”. He always stressed the need for national unity. But government has failed to take similar consideration in regard to ethnic issue compared with the steps government has taken for economic reforms. Two tasks are extremely crucial for a nascent democratic government because these are many decades old legacies of undemocratic and reactionary mechanism.
In Rakhine politics, now major theoretical issues are power sharing, resource sharing and to enjoy cultural rights fully.
In 2011 election, Rakhine People support RNDP and voted bravely with ethnic nationalism hoping for change. RNDP won the election as a major national party in Rakhine but they have no right to choose the leader of Arakan state. The party got democratic popular support, but cannot get power endorsed by the people, the political power. That is the problem of political self-determination. In coming 2015 general election, Rakhine people hope that such situation (issues) can be changed. This will be one of the guarantees for democratic transition in ethnic areas.
Resource sharing is a very great issue for ethnic nationalities. If a nationality cannot enjoy any benefit sharing from the resources which are the products of their own land, it is totally unjust and it can be considered an exercise of neo-colonialism, undemocratic and uncivilized ideology in 21st century. Rakhine with green mountains, blue coastal waters, rich resources, ancient historical monuments and heritages, why this region and this people become poorer and poorer is a question of self-determination on economy.
And also cultural and historical rights are still far away. To learn Rakhine language, Rakhine history in government and private schools and to press and publish newspapers and journals in Sittway are not allowed by law. In British colonial era, Sittway is the first city to publish newspapers in Burma. Now, the ancient city MraukOo is banned for tourist destination without concrete reasons.
Even though Rakhine people are facing difficulties and challenges, even they are losing their own rights, the new government of Rakhine state is keeping silent, running naively pretending nothing wrong is being done to theRakhine state.
A spectre is haunting Myanmar, particularly Rakhine, the spectre of Rohingya. Rakhine has been an independent Buddhist Kingdom up until 1784. In MraukOo, the capital of last Rakhine dynasty, Buddhist pagodas, temples, monuments and archaeological heritages can be observed easily in anywhere. In MraukOo dynasty of Rakhine Kingdom there were early Muslim settlements. British introduced the modern institutions to the Rakhine state, so the situation developed rather than other Burma areas especially in the sectors of agriculture, education and transportation. Many undeveloped lands were re-cultivated and when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, the products of agriculture became boomed. For the expansion of cultivated area, the manual laborers are greatly needed. Due to the British economic Policy, Chittagonian Bengalis can freely come to the Rakhine land as manual laborers. They are cheap and industrious working people: thus they are very suitable and profitable for British colonialist. From a few hundreds, the number has steadily increased and within the last decade of 19th century, growth has been continuous since they do not return to their native land.
The practice of polygamy is one factor for big population density of Muslim in that area. The British authority has great concern for this problem and special investigation commission was formed in 1939. The team suggested restricting the immigration, however, due to the outbreak of world war the suggestion was not taken into action.
In March, 1942, the Japanese Army marched into Rakhine and British had to retreat to India across Naff River. Because Rakhine people were anti-British, British handed some of their weapons to Muslim. The communal violence erupted between the Rakhines and Muslim communities. In Buthidaung and Maungdaw area, nearly 20,000 Rakhine including Deputy Commissioner U Oo Kyaw Khine, an Indian Civil Service, were killed, most of the villages were burned and Rakhine had to flee to middle Rakhine state deserting their homes, farms and fields. These historical events are unforgettable for Rakhines and great trauma and fear still exists in their hearts generation after generation.
After the independence, Rakhine ethnic statehood was not recognized. When the cry for Arakan state become louder the Muslim demanded separate state and started to rebel. In 1951, they held a conference in Aletthankyaw village in Maungdaw Township, and a charter of demand for Rakhine Muslim was produced. They were called Mujahids and were crushed by the Burmese Army.
Now so-called Rohingyas are the descendents of these Muslims and illegal migrated people from Bangladesh. In the start of Mujahid Insurgency the Rohingya name was not used in their statement. They call themselves Rakhine Muslim. In the local gazetteers of British era, they are mentioned as “Chittagonian Bengalis” and the term ‘Rohingya’ is not found in the British census. The Rohingya is just a historically fabricated term by Rakhine Muslim elites, now radical elite elements in their quest for unhistorical, illogical demands to get recognized as an ethnic nationality and to realize an Islamic autonomy in northern Arakan. They said that Rohingya are natives of Arakan and this land is their ancestral area. In contrary to their claims, a prominent scholar and also an expert in Rakhine history Dr Jacques Leider as commented that "Rohingya is a name, not an ethnic category, that has been revived in modern days to indentify Muslims in Rakhine as a separate social group. One may eventually compare it with the name of Chinese Muslims in Myanmar who are called 'Panthay'."In fact, the term ‘Rohingya’ is not found in the history of Indian civilization and in census of India. New Democratic Burmese Government also does not recognize Rohingya as an ethnic Identity of Burma. The Rakhine historians and people totally agree with this.
The successive governments cannot handle this problem properly and it has existed like a snow-capped volcano which can erupt at any time. Situation worsens due to corruption of government officials, lack of rule of law and the extremely porous border. In addition to this, those muslims are not allowed to leave Rakhine State and to settle freely around Myanmar, which makes great burden of population density on the shoulders of Arakan.
|Muslim gang-rape-murder victim Thidar Htway (2012).|
Situation is very complicated that it is very difficult to identify who are major culprits, who are players, who get benefits. The truth is that the people of both communities are victims. Minute incidents happened frequently between two communities which have been living peacefully. Under the Burmese military regime, human right violation is rampant in any where not only for non-ethnic Rohingya, but also for Rakhine, Shan, Karen and all ethnics including Burmese.
Propagandas of exile Rohingya elites by mass media, human rights violation of the military regime, successful lobbying and advocacy of Rohingya elites in the US Congress, British parliament and western diplomatic circles, and strong support of international Islamic organizations endorse them good chance to hoist the flag of Rohingya and their issues under the guise of human rights. On the paper of "The Muslims in Rakhine and the political project of the Rohingyas" by Jacques Leider, it has written as follow: 2010 BRANA (Burmese Rohingya Association of North America)"advocacy organization with a primary mission of closely working with the US government, Canadian government, and various NGOs in legislation, policy formulation, and humanitarian support for issues facing the Rohingya people in Burma and other countries around the world..", Additionally BRANA maintains strong ties with various NGOs around the world to advance the cause of Rohingyas.
Thus, Rohingyas are greatly favoured in diplomatic platforms, and Rakhines are heavily marginalized. Since 1784, even though Rakhine became a defeated nation with the loss of her sovereignty and had never enjoyed the national democratic rights and self-determination, sympathy and support for Rakhine people is very little.
Rakhine are native hosts, and illegal immigrants Bengalis instigated from exile are intruding. So when the limited tolerance is over, it is easy to rise up ethnic nationalism which is hard to calm down. On one hand, the handling of the problem by Rakhine state government demonstrates the weakness in power, responsibility, accountability and capacity. So the conflicted communities became real victims. In exile media, Rakhine organizations and people are villains. Exile Rohingya and their pro-media accused RNDP and Rakhine people of co-operating with the Burmese army to suppress and kill the Rohingyas. And Burmese high ranking officials say suspect of RNDP for instigation and involvement in the conflicts.
After the first round violence in June, President U Thein Sein told UNHCR commissioner Antonio Guterres that Rohingyas are not ethnic people, the persons disqualified due to 1982 citizenship law have to live under the care of UNHCR and they are allowed to leave if the third country will accept them. Rakhine people agreed and appreciated that idea. Rakhines opposed the establishment of OIC office in Rakhine. They felt that Myanmar and the President are on their side. Rakhine people like to grant citizenship for legally qualified persons, they can have the opportunity to enjoy human rights fully, to travel freely, to settle down in anywhere of Myanmar. So that it can reduce the tensions and burden of population density which is especially on the shoulders of Rakhine at this point.
In the beginning of 2013, the tension becomes calm down and less but hatred and fear are still burning in the hearts of both communities. It will take time for peaceful coexistence. Humanitarian aids not only materials but also mental and ethical assistance are needed. Conflict resolution tactics, comforting the wounded mind and trauma healing are truly essential for both communities. One important thing is that the mass media should not bias and exaggerate, in order that the conflicted communities will not be further provoked by media coverage.
I was wondering why British scholars and historians are keeping silent on the Rohingya Issue which originated under the British administration era in Burma.
|Burma occupies a strategic position on Indian Ocean.|
On the labor issues, the project officials do not respect the international norms. Local laborers are not prioritized, they are marginalized and they cannot get suitable wages in time. No medical service for them, the living shelters are very dirty and dire comparing with the housing quarters of the Chinese workers who came from mainland China. Protection of environment, human right and livelihoods of local people are out of consideration. Skill jobs, minute case just like drivers, are given to workers from China. Rakhine people hope the zone will promote the development of the region but so far, china industrial zone is becoming real threat to Rakhine coast and Rakhine people.
Now in Sittway, nearly 100 miles away from Kyaukphyu, Kaladan River multi-model Transit Transportation project is building. This India project is to implement the look East Policy of India. It includes a high way from Mizoram, one of the seven sister states of Northeast India, to Rakhine state, dredging the Kaladan river, and building a sea port. This is a splendid bridge of North East India’s landlocked states to Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean. Just like the China project the fears and concern are filling in the hearts of the local people. In both projects, respect for the environment, respect for the interest of the local people, and respect for the international norms on labor issues are always missing.
People are pleased for any coming projects because they hope that it can create job opportunity and development. RNDP welcomes the development projects of any foreign investments in Rakhine region. It will be beneficial to all three parties: local people, central government and investors. But now, great concern and impacts are in the heart of the local people of Rakhine.
India and China are maneuvering for their interest in the Bay of Bengal. The visit of President Obama has encouraged the democratization in Myanmar and one other factor is to contain the Chinese influences in Myanmar since the former is lagging behind China in the area of Bay of Bengal. Presently, Rakhine has been becoming the strategic geo-political location for competition of the three giant nations; China, India and US.
Myanmar has started on the right track of democracy and reforms on politics, economy and administration are echoing in Naypyidaw, in Yangon media circle, especially in the stratum of upper middle class. International assistance such as loans and foreign direct investments are beginning to flow in. For the grassroots level in Myanmar and people from ethnic areas are not enjoying such socio-political harvest in Burma but still hoping for the concrete real change.
Parties and Organizations
For a good democratization, one important factor is democratic political parties. In Rakhine, RNDP, USDP and NLD are now major parties. Arakan league for Democracy (ALD), the prominent party of 1990 election winning 11 seats registered and Rakhine people like to see the co-operation and combination of two national parties to be a single party to complete the NLD and USDP in coming 2015 election.
RNDP is a nascent party with poor experience, poor capacity, poor funding but people relies on them for the change. USDP is financially strong but they do not get popular support however extremely inefficient in public affairs management. People think that NLD is very dull and not on their side in communal violence, so the party popularity is decreasing in Rakhine. ALP, Arakan Liberation Party which has taken up arms nearly 40 years for the independence of Arakan, now signed an agreement for ceasefire with the government and opened a liaison office in Kyauktaw. RNDP is bold and initiative, always stepping forward in public affairs rather than other democratic parties.
The journey has started. The speed of the train, the completeness for the journey will depend on the political will and dedication of the democratic leaders and the people themselves. One point is sure that the reversible trend in democracy cannot be allowed by the people.
I am not a scholar, just a petty-politician of democracy transformed from an activist so there will be subjectivity and flaws in my paper. I am happy to take comments and criticisms.
Thank you All.
Oo Hla Saw
(Oo Hla Saw was born in 1953 in Sittwe. His primary education (K-to-4) at Yupa village primary school in Sittwe Township. He attended No-1 Basic Education High School Sittwe and matriculated with distinctions in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
|RNDP's General Secretary Oo Hla Saw.|
In 1975, he was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment as he participated in the Students/Workers General Strike as a student leader. He was released in 1980 with the general amnesty.
After 1980, he made a living as a private tuition teacher in the Rakhine State and participated in literary activities. During the 1988 Uprising, he served as the secretary of Sittwe Protest Committee. For his participation in the uprising, he was sentenced for 14 years of imprisonment.
After serving 4 years, he was released from the prison. After his release, he made a living as the tuition teacher and engaged in literature field.
Since 2010, he has been serving as the general secretary of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. He also contributed political articles to the Pyithu Khit (the People’s Age) weekly journal under the penname Maung Khaing Aung (Sittwe).