Co-authored with Ashley South, Tim Schroeder, Mi Kun Chan Non, Saw Sa Shine, Susanne Kempel, Axel Schroeder and Naw Wah Shee Mu (Covenant Consult, November 2018)
The Myanmar Interim Arrangements Research Project, funded by the Joint Peace Fund, was implemented between October 2017 and October 2018. Researchers spoke to more than 450 people in Shan, Karen/Kayin and Mon States, Tanintharyi Region, Naypyidaw, Yangon and Thailand.
The term “Interim Arrangements” is a contested concept, meaning different things to different stakeholders. The MIARP adopted the following working definition of Interim Arrangements: “Service delivery and governance in conflict- affected areas, including the relationship between EAOs and government systems, during the period between initial ceasefires and a comprehensive political settlement.” Interim Arrangement refers to EAOs’ governance functions, administrative authority and service delivery systems. The “interim” period extends until a comprehensive political settlement has been implemented, which given recent setbacks in the peace process may take many years to achieve.
Recognition of Interim Arrangements in Chapter 6 of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) reflects the government’s acknowledgement of key EAOs’ political legitimacy and administrative responsibilities. Interim Arrangements are about more than the NCA. However, Chapter 6 (Article 25) of the NCA recognizes the roles of signatory EAOs in the fields of health, education, development, environmental conservation and natural resource management, preservation and promotion of ethnic cultures and languages, security and the rule of law, and illicit drug eradication, and allows EAOs to receive international aid, in coordination with the government. For many years, Myanmar’s larger EAOs have taken on governance and administration roles in their areas of control, often delivering a wide range of services in partnership with CSOs. In the southeast, groups like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) are de-facto governments in relatively small pockets of territory. They also have influence and provide some services in wider areas of “mixed administration”, where EAO authority overlaps with that of the government and Myanmar Army. Between them for example, these three EAOs administer or support more than 2,000 schools, providing ethnic language teaching to vulnerable children who would otherwise often be denied an education. They also work with local partners to provide health services, access to justice and other public goods.
Similar arrangements exist in other parts of the country, both in ceasefire areas where EAOs have not signed the NCA, and in areas of on-going armed conflict. For example, across much of Kachin and northern Shan States, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and other EAOs provide elements of governance, and life-saving if under resourced services to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other highly vulnerable communities.
There are three principal rationales for supporting Interim Arrangements:
1. Effective Interim Arrangements will provide the best outcomes for vulnerable and marginalised communities in conflict-affected areas. Rather than reinventing the wheel, existing EAO and CSO service delivery systems should be supported on a case-by-case basis, recognising best practice. Meeting the government’s targets for school enrolment and universal health coverage for example, will depend on the work of EAOs and affiliated civil society actors, who should be seen as partners in meeting critical needs and achieving development goals.
2. Several of Myanmar’s EAOs (including NCA signatory and non-signatory groups) enjoy longstanding political legitimacy among the communities they seek to represent. Supporting EAO governance regimes will counter perceptions of the peace process as a vehicle for state penetration into previously autonomous areas, displacing existing EAO authorities and services, without consulting local stakeholders. In order to be conflict-sensitive, aid should be delivered in ways that do not undermine systems associated with EAOs, to the benefit of the government. Timely peace dividends can best be provided to vulnerable and marginalized communities by working with existing and trusted local service delivery systems.
3. Interim Arrangements could be a key element in building “federalism from below” in Myanmar, supporting effective local governance through equitable practices of selfdetermination. The administrative functions and services provided by key EAOs and their civil society partners should be regarded as the building blocks of federalism in Myanmar – a political solution to decades of armed conflict which key stakeholders have endorsed.
There is concern among many ethnic stakeholders that international agencies, and particularly major donors, are pushing a convergence agenda, aimed at merging EAO and civil society service delivery with that of the state. While convergence between EAO and government systems may be appropriate in some scenarios and sectors, for most EAOs and CSOs Interim Arrangements are primarily about the maintenance and support of their independent systems. This is a sensitive topic, given the widespread perception that donors are intent on strengthening government capacities and systems, and extending these into previously inaccessible and/or contested conflict-affected areas. Peace-support efforts often struggle with tensions between state-centric aid and development programs, and inclusive and politically sensitive peace-building. Assumptions that weak institutional capacity is at the core of conflict, with a consequent focus on reinforcing state institutions, can result in peace-building activities which marginalise other sources of authority, such as EAOs and civil society actors. This is particularly problematicin the context of Myanmar, where the State is a party to armed conflict, and EAOs have extensive (if often contested) political legitimacy. Donors and diplomats should recognise that many of the issues structuring decades of armed conflict in Myanmar are irreducibly political. This would help to assuage ethnic stakeholders’ concerns that the government has an economic development first agenda for the peace process in Myanmar, and uses aid as a distraction from demands for political reform.