We’ve had 2 directors and a staff member in Sri Lanka for the bulk of this month – looking at product, talking to suppliers and generally making a’ nuisence of themselves. The overwhelming impression that were left with is how Sri Lanka is starting to take off after the end of the war 6 months ago. It aint a bed of roses by any means – but there is hope for the future and that is something new in Sri Lanka in many ways.
One of our directors, Mick Lowe, below gives his personal reflections on the political scene in Sri Lanka, from a tourist point for view and watch out for some great product news and reviews over the coming weeks.
Happy Christmas One and All!
This blog is written whilst overlooking by far the best beach I have seen in the world. The beach, at Mirissa on the south coast of Sri Lanka, is second to none but off the traditional ‘trail’ for most people coming here since it is deemed to be a backpacker’s destination. There is some truth in this but there are one or two places very close to the beach that are of a good standard. But this is one great, horseshoe, palm-fringed beach with an excellent Internet connection in a great cafe under the palm trees!
But this visit is dominated by the pending elections. January 26 sees the current President up against a newcomer to politics – a former General who led the campaign against the Tamil Tigers. Politics here is tricky since, as in the west, there is a movement away from the traditional ‘right/left’ divide – and there are some very strong views held – particularly by those in positions of power! But politics is part of the fabric of every nation and as tourists we cannot and should not ignore it and in some cases it determines whether we will visit some countries. But we should be careful in expressing our views! So I want to try to put some of this into context without getting into tricky territory.
The Tigers question is not far from anyone’s thoughts – even if people are careful in expressing these. Whilst politics is dominant with the pending elections, political discourse is somewhat contained. As in many developing countries fear surrounds the debate. For most of us in the west, violence has no part in politics, but in a country that has faced a violent uprising for most of the past 25 years, violence and the opposition to violence is part of the fabric. It has been a reality for most of the population and is still not far from their fears.
Yet the defeat of the Tamil Tigers has brought a new hope for Sri Lanka and for its future – and you can sense this everywhere. In talking to ordinary people there is no doubt whatsoever, that they welcome the end of violence – who wouldn’t. But the conclusion to the war, from all that is written, has its controversy over the fate of innocent people – people who did not support violent means but happened to live in an area controlled by an organisation committed to violence to achieve their political ends. But, as is always the case, there are many different stories and interpretations.
However, it seems to me that, despite their concerns, the people of Sri Lanka will be voting in the context that peace has been achieved. It may have been at a cost but it is peace and it feels (to Sri Lankans) that it could be a lasting peace – and it is this that also generates a hope for future economic development. But they face – and this is a personal view – three major challenges. The first is seeking a political solution to the pressure for a greater say for Tamils in the areas where they dominate – largely in the north. The second is to create a political system without corruption – a challenge in many developing countries and certainly not unique to Sri Lanka. And the final challenge is to make economic development both environmentally sustainable and to bring tangible benefits to all the people of Sri Lanka. None of these are easy and very few developing countries have managed to achieve them in recent times.
So, if you are visiting the country during the next 6 weeks you will be subjected to electioneering like you will not see in the western world. Big rallies; cavalcades of vehicles moving from village to village; loud speakers convincing the people to vote for their candidate; gatherings of people in village and town squares listening to candidates and supporters of politicians. The antithesis of the Obama campaign that succeeded through the exploitation of social networking techniques and new technology. However, it’s all part of the experience and all part of our learning when we come to a place like Sri Lanka where politics is still vibrant and operates with plenty of passion!