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The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma



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| 40 |
Ken MacLean
The concept of human security, commonly dened as both “free-
dom from fear” and “freedom from want,” emerged in the early
1990s, largely in response to the challenges globalization posed
for traditional understandings of sovereignty in the post-Cold War era.1
Proponents of the new paradigm argued that state-centric approaches to
securit y, while not u nimportant, were i nsu cient in an era charac terized
by a dramatic and often destabilizing increase in ows of people, goods,
and services—many of them illicit—across national boundaries.2 Instead,
they advocated for a more exible, proactive approach, which placed the
basic needs of ordinary people rather than those of states at its core. While
this paradigm has become quite popular, especially among those who sup-
port an integrated, rights-based approach to human development, it has
also proved to be very dicult to implement, especially in cases where the
primary cause of “want” and “fear” is the state itself.
This has long been true in the case of Burma, where the military has
ruled the country in one form or another since 1962. Indeed, many ex-
perts are concerned that the country as a whole is on the verge of hu-
manitarian collapse after nearly ve decades of inept, kleptocratic, and
frequently brutal authoritarian rule.3 T he most extreme forms of this rule
can be found in the countr y’s border regions, where successive campaigns
against dierent armed groups, many of them opposed to centralized rule
by the ethnic majority, have militarized many, though not all, of these
Ken MacLean is an as sistant profe ssor of international development and
social change at Clark University. He is the author of “Sovereignty after
the Entrepreneur ial Turn: Mosaics of Control, C ommodied Spaces, and
Regulated Violence in Contemporar y Burma,” in Taking Southeast Asia
to Market: Commodities, Nature, and People in a Neoliberal Age (Cornell
University Press, 2008).
Essays by Bradley O. Babson, Mary Callahan, Jürgen Haacke, Ken MacLean, Morten B. Pedersen, David I. Steinberg, Sean Turnell and Min Zin.
Edited by Susan L. Levenstein
©2010 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.
Full text accessible at
(2MB) and$-sense-legitimacy_in_Burma.pdf (1.6MB)
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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formerly “non-state” spaces.4 These campaigns, which have been widely
documented by human rights organizations, have displaced hundreds of
thousands of people and contributed to the ight of as many as two million
more to Thailand alone. In fact, conditions in these still contested regions
are now so dire that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human
Rights recommended in March 2010 that the body create a commission
of inquiry to investigate whether the military regime, currently known as
the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), is guilty of war crimes
and crimes against humanity.5
Despite this record, the “international community” remains sharply
divided over what should be done. Indeed, the terms of the debate have
hardly changed since the military regime’s violent crackdown on unarmed
demonstrators in 1988, which claimed several thousand lives and its subse-
quent decision to disallow the results of the 1990 elections. (The National
League of Democracy, nominally headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392
of the 492 seats.) These events prompted some governments to impose
signicant sanctions on the regime, many of which remain in place today.
Others, by contrast, opted to maintain ties with the regime in the hopes
that continued engagement would bring about constructive change. Since
the terms used in these debates are rarely commensurate—they reect
dramatically dierent ethical positions as well as assumptions about the
relationship of economic growth to political liberalization—each side tends
to dismiss the claims of the other as being either naïve or amoral.6 In the
meantime, ordinary Burmese have continued to suer.7
Of course, this impasse is not entirely reducible to the debate over the
possibilities and limits of constructive engagement. Nonetheless, the con-
tinued preoccupation with these concerns has badly constrained our ability
to imagine other possible solutions to the crisis that, although unfolding
inside Burma, has long posed a threat to the entire region’s stability due
to the regime’s documented involvement in human tracking, weapons
smuggling, opium cultivation, methamphetamine production, and money
laundering, among other illicit activities.8 To move beyond this impasse,
it is therefore necessary to recognize that both approaches have failed to
achieve their intended goals. Sanctions have not fully isolated Burma from
the outside world. Nor has constructive engagement resulted in greater
respect for human rights norms or the rule of law by the regime’s military
or civilian personnel. Instead, each approach had undermined the overall
Ken MacLean
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eectiveness of the other since they were implemented concurrently and
with little coordination. The signicance of this is two-fold. First, it has
meant that eorts by dierent segments of the “international community”
to positively shape events inside Burma have inadvertently contributed
to greater rather than less “fear” and “want” throughout the countr y.
Second, this trend has not aected everyone in Burma; indeed, a range of
actors—some part of the regime, others not—have beneted greatly from
the opportunities that the contradictory mix of sanctions and investment
oered for those in a position to take advantage of them. The remainder
of this essay outlines why this has been the case.
Since 1989, the milit a r y regime has brokered more th an t wo doz en cea se-
re agreements with armed opposition groups across the country, most of
which were organized along ethnic l ines. Whi le the ceasere agreements
did little to resolve the political disagreement s animating di erent armed
struggles, they nonetheless served a tactical purpose. Armed groups that
“returned to the legal fold” (i.e. publicly acknowledged the legitimacy of
the regime) were able to retain some administrative control over large and
frequently discontinuous pieces of territory as well as the populations and
resources within. In exchange, the ceasere agreements made it possible for
the regime’s armed force s (tatmadaw) to concentrate its counterinsurgency
operations in a steadily decreasing number of areas around the country
where large-scale armed opposition still existed. Together, these related
processes have dramatically enlarged the amount of territory the SPDC
could realistically claim to exercise permanent authority.9
By the mid-1990s, the regime’s eorts to further consolidate its control
over these former conict zones shifted from a wholly militarized approach
to one that placed greater emphasis on “economic development.” While
state-sponsored initiatives in the country’s remote border regions formed
a crucial component of this new security strategy, the regime increasingly
relied upon joint venture agreements to help revitalize the country’s econ-
omy, which had badly stagnated during three decades of centralized state
control known as the “Burmese Way to Socialism” (1962–1988). However,
the move toward a more market-oriented economy did not signal an ocial
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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endorsement of the values and practices associated with neo-liberalism,
which were then being adopted across much of Southeast Asia.10 The  i r-
tation with the marketplace was instead prompted by a series of trade and
investment sanctions some western governments and international nancial
institutions have employed since 1988 to punish the regime for its failure
to respect the rule of law and basic human rights norms. Unfortunately,
attempts to isolate Burma economically and thus, create conditions for
“regime change” have failed to produce their desired eect. Instead, the
sanctions have ironically strengthened the military regime by forcing its
personnel to diversify their existing business interests and to develop new
ones more quickly than might have occurred otherwise.
One consequence of the entrepreneurial turn, which aected all levels
of the regime, was the rapid conversion of previously contested spaces into
commodied ones where large-scale resource extraction could openly take
place. While the precise details of the ceasere agreements the regime
separately negotiated with dierent armed groups have never been public, a
growing body of data suggests that the number of joint ventures extracting
gems, precious metals, minerals, tropical hardwoods, and other valuable
resources dramatically increased in each of the former conict zones im-
mediately after a ceasere was declared. Signicantly, most of these joint
ventures were not formally registered companies; rather, they were ad hoc
entities that opportunistically linked military and commercial interests
together in a particular place, though rarely on equal terms. Typically,
these entities partnered members of dierent tatmadaw eld bat talions, dif-
ferent ceasere groups, state-owned enterprises, and local entrepreneurs,
especially those with access to foreign capital via transnational personal
networks. Such strategic alliances, while not unique to Burma, nonethe-
less assumed a specic form in this context due to the pressures the regime
faced at the time. Moreover, the very conditions that contributed to the
proliferation of joint ventures in the ceasere areas made it impossible for
any one entity to monopolize the resources in a given enclave.
Three processes, all of which reinforce one another, account for this
state of aairs. First, due to budgetary and ideological reasons, the regime
requires all of its eld battalions to be as economically self-sucient as
possible. This policy, introduced in the early 1990s, has encouraged the
battalions to engage in a diverse array of activities to fund their operating
expenses, which minimally include food, ammunition, and pay packets for
Ken MacLean
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the soldiers under their command. Of these activities, joint ventures are
among the most lucrative since they allow the battalions to collect various
rents (such as extra-legal taxes and protection fees) in addition to a percent-
age of the commodities extracted. Second, decades of counterinsurgency
operations have resulted in the extensive militarization of Burma’s border
regions. There are, for example, more than 200 infantry battalions pres-
ently deployed on or near the country’s eastern border.
Due t he den sit y of
these deployments, battalions frequently nd themselves seeking to exploit
the same limited number of economic opportunities in order to nance
themselves. Third, most of the extractive enclaves in the ceasere areas
contain several dierent kinds of resources, so concessions devoted to one
commodity often overlap spatially with others, which results in shifting
forms of competition and collusion between the ad hoc joint ventures.
Over time, these practices have produced a curious paradox that com-
plicates conventional understandings of sovereignty, which still privilege
a state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force within a territor y. On
the one hand, the resource concessions have helped the regime to expand
its military, administrative, and economic reach into areas of the country
where it previously had little or none. On the other hand, the resource con-
cessions have simultaneously undermined the regime’s ability to exercise
centralized control over these same areas since the joint ventures are able to
divert a considerable portion of the resources they extract (rents as well as
primary commodities) to members of their respective patron-client net-
works, group, or locality. Both processes have not only intensied eorts
by the joint ventures to claim what remains of Burma’s natural “capital”
before someone else does, but accelerated the devolution of sovereignty
into competing networks of authority and accumulation, which cross-cut
the regime’s civil and military bureaucracy at some moments and bypass
them entirely at others.
These outcomes are, of course, not unique to Burma. Achille Mbembe, in
his work on the banality of power in contemporary Africa, observed that
many sub-Saharan states underwent rapid and often violent de-linking
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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from the formal global economy during the 1980s and 1990s as a conse-
quence of government policies, structural adjustment programs, and/or
armed conict—often related to and sustained by primar y commodities,
such as tropical hardwoods, gold, diamonds, oil, and coltan.12 New links
formed in their place, reconnecting some parts of these states to the infor-
mal global economy, but not others—an uneven and spatially discontinu-
ous process that further fragmented state authority. The result, he explains,
was the emergence of competing forms of “private indirect government,”
which both required and perpetuated the need to use violence in the
place of the law to control resources, extract rents, and appropriate other
sources of economic value from others.13 These broad similarities suggest
that much could be gained from comparative studies, which explore the
extent to which these patterns are shaped, at least in part by the legacies of
(British) colonial rule across dierent post-colonial settings. But for that
to be possible, further micro-level research is needed to document what
actually occurred in particular times and places.
Toward this end, my discussion below summarizes some of the key
ndings from a series of clandestine fact-nding missions that researchers
from EarthRights International (ERI) and the Karen Environmental and
Social Action Network (K ESAN) carried out between 2001 and 2005 in
Nyaunglebin District, in the eastern part of the Pegu Division.14 Further
research is planned to document changes since then, especially in light of
the military oensives conducted in the study area from 2006 onwards;
however, the intent at the time was to assess if and how the emergence of
“private indirect government” in Burma was connected to what I have
termed the “entrepreneurial turn” more generally.
With this in mind, researchers conducted rapid rural appraisals in
Nyaunglebin District, particularly Shwegyin Township, to gather details
on the dynamics of the conict, which involved several dierent armed
groups and its eects in terms of the number and location of villages
destroyed, relocated, or abandoned since the 1970s. These details were
analyzed in conjunction with current information compiled by other re-
spected organizations (e.g., the Thai Burma Border Consortium, the Karen
Human Rights Group, and the Free Burma Rangers) to identify historical
patterns of forced migration in the district. Researchers also carried out
semi-structured interviews with a wide range of Burmese from dierent
ethnic backgrounds that resided and/or worked in the extractive enclaves,
Ken MacLean
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including: local businessmen, soldiers, and migrant laborers involved in
mining and logging activities as well as horticulturalists, rattan harvesters,
charcoal producers, and petty traders. Where possible, internally displaced
persons (IDPs) who ed these areas for more remote ones in the rugged
mountains to the east, toward the western boundary of Karen State, were
also inter viewed.
Taken to get her, the se pat terns revea l th at cou nter insu rgency campaig n s
were not antithetical to the pursuit of prot; quite the contrary, as re-
source exploitation did not stop during three previous waves of large-scale,
regime-sponsored violence against civilian populations in Nyaunglebin
District during 1975–1982, 1988–1990, and 1997–1999. Rather, resource
exploitation continued and, in each case, expanded in both size and scale
immediately after the forced relocations ceased. More strikingly, the forced
relocations also tended to occur in areas where valuable natural resources
were located. This suggests that economic interests helped shape tactical
concerns, a conclusion I provide further evidence to support below.
Interestingly, the developments in Nyaunglebin District were originally
made possible by events elsewhere. A series of ceasere agreements reached
in Shan State between 1994 and 1996 enabled some local entrepreneurs,
many of them linked to dierent armed groups, to import hydraulic min-
ing equipment from the People’s Republic of China, purportedly using
capital borrowed from investors in Singapore. The new technology, cou-
pled with armed backing, helped a relatively small number of ad hoc joint
ventures to consolidate gemstone mining (primarily rubies and sapphires)
in and around Mogok in Mandalay Division in north-central Burma.
Shortly afterwards, thousands of small-scale miners suddenly found them-
selves transformed into day laborers after these joint ventures seized their
claims, most often by extralegal means. As one former miner explained,
“The people may own the land in Mogok, but we don’t get any benets.
It’s like the deer that has many fawns, but the tiger will always get them.
Here, the tiger is the military. Mogok people don’t want to stay anymore
because of the conditions.” Beginning in 1995, a number of these min-
ers, who are largely of Shan or Chinese descent, migrated to Shwegyin
in Nyaunglebin District, approximately 700 kilometers to the southeast,
where they have since gained control of the gold mining operations there
with the help of local businessmen, tatmadaw eld battalions, and one of
its key proxies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. In the process, the
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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miners have helped reproduce the very conditions that forced their initial
departure, but this time upon the Sgaw Karen, who form the ethnic ma-
jority in this latter region.
These events, which I have described in great detail elsewhere, evince
similar patterns of enclosure and displacement despite signicant dier-
ences in the commodities extracted, the history of armed conict in both
loca les, and the ethnic popu lation s within. While many of the similar itie s
can be attributed to the underlying logic of “primitive accumulation,”
which organizes extraction in the mining concessions in common ways,
the eld data also reveals how the forms of regulated (i.e. non-lethal)
violence the ad hoc joi nt ventures utiliz e in both enc laves generate dier-
ent outcomes for the populations subjected to them. In some cases, these
practices reinforce existing ethno-racial hierarchies, which privilege ethnic
Burmans over others while in others, they blur them.15
But in no case do these practices reect regime-led eorts to reorga-
nize national spaces or to “graduate” the rights aorded to those who
work within dierent zones, as has occurred in other parts of Southeast
Asia where states selectively link some of their territory and populations
to global circuits of capital.16 Although a number of such extra-terr itorial
zones exist in Burma, they are few in number and, with the notable ex-
ception of the Yadana Natural Gas Pipeline, not essential to the regime’s
economic survival. Instead, the practices at work in the vast majority of the
country’s extractive enclaves produce complicit subjects who participate
in economic practices that destroy the very ecosystems they depend upon
for their cultural as well as economic survival. Several examples follow
to more fully illustrate the varied forms of “private indirect government”
found in the extractive enclaves located in and around the Shwegyin river
and its tributaries: the Matama, Oo Pu, Tinpa, Kyopaku, Maezi, Meala
Pu, and Boekahta.
The primary driver of the “resource fatalism” found in these enclaves is,
of course, militarization. Between 1999 and 2005, four separate tatmadaw
battalions established 17 new army camps and 25 relocation sites to control
displaced populations forced to reside nearby. (At the time the study was
completed in 2005, the relocation sites held approximately 7,900 people,
wh i le another 13,4 0 0 were est imat ed to be in hid i ng i n mountainous area s.)
These camps permit the tatmadaw, which maintains a Strategic Operations
Command outside the town of Shwegyin, to carry out tactical operations
Ken MacLean
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in the surrounding mountains. When not on patrol, companies and pla-
toons drawn from these battalions provide security for the Kyauk Naga
Dam, being built on the Shwegyin River, and the mining and logging
concessions found nearby.
Rents and Non-Lethal Violence
Since the SPDC requires the tatmadaw to be as economically self-sucient
as possible, an elaborate system of rent collection has emerged in and around
these concessions, which dierent state-owned enterprises, ad hoc joint ven-
tures, and other armed groups unocially lease from them (see Table 1).
These rents include a wide range of extra-legal taxes on commodities,
passage through the area, and all income generated in the concessions.
As one local resident explained, “I had to pay so many taxes that I had to
start logging to survive.”17 Security fees are also levied as are a number
of dierent permit requirements to extract resources, to employ laborers,
and to provide them with food and other services. These revenue streams
have produced a number of interesting eects on the forms of government
found in the concessions.
First, “private indirect government” has helped regulate the violence
used in them . Th i s is not to su gges t human r ight s abuse s no long er occ ur;
they do; however, abuses tend to be non-lethal in nature and designed to
enforce particular forms of labor discipline among the workers. Second,
the incidence of forced labor, still commonplace outside the concessions,
has largely been replaced by wage labor within them, as this generates
another revenue stream. Third, since the members of each platoon are
able to keep whatever rents they can extract after meeting their monthly
payments to their commanders who, in turn, are expected to contrib-
ute a portion of these funds further up the chain of command, there is
a strong incentive to extract as much as is possible before rotating out
of the concessions. This practice, since it promotes competition among
dierent units within the same battalion as well as between the dierent
battalions stationed in Shwegyin over a nite amount of money, food,
and labor, has further eroded the human security of those who work
in the concessions or still reside nearby. As one Karen farmer whose
livelihood was under constant threat due to these demands puts it, “We
live in their hands. If they kill us, we will die. If they keep us alive, we
wil l live.”18
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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Table 1: Selected Rents Extracted in the Mining Concessions,
Shwegyin Township (2004–2005)
Collected By Type Amount (Kyat)
Tatmadaw units Security fee for
mining companies 1,000–20,000/month
Tatmadaw units
Tax for small business
operators (tea, video, ka-
raoke, and casino/brothel)
Tatmadaw units Security fee for small
business operators 1,500–3,000/shop/month
Tatmadaw units Residence tax for miners
and dependents 700/person/month
Tatmadaw units Travel fee to enter and to
exit concessions
500 per person (valid one
week to one month)
Tatmadaw units Security fee for landown-
ers near mining sites
1,000–2,000 per owner
a month
Tatmadaw units Permit fees for rewood
collection 3,000/person/month
Mining company Scavenging fee
2,000–3,000 per person
a day to search tailings
for gold
High-ranking military of-
cials and businessmen
Lease fee for mining on
private property
Landowner retains 60 per-
cent of all gold extracted
Tatmadaw Battalions Tax on miners employed
by company 1,000/miner/month
Division 77 Headquarters
Concession fee (separate
from amount paid to the
Department of Mines)
Division 77 Headquarters
Rental fee for hydraulic
equipment (goes to the
“Division Fund”)
machine/month (Varies
by productivity of site)
Southern Command
Permission fee paid by
battalions to collect the
500,000 per month
Ken MacLean
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These patterns described above are signicant on a number of levels.
Most obviously, they indicate that even small enclaves can generate substan-
tial streams of revenue for mid-level militar y ocials, local businessmen,
and other persons involved in dierent extractive industries. Less obviously,
but more importantly, these same patron-client relations reveal the extent
to which “private indirect government” has simultaneously extended and
fragmented centralized rule. Militarization of the area has increased and
intensied mining, logging, and the extraction of other commercially
valuable forest products; however, it has not resulted in improved access to
health care, education, or other services related to the overall security of
those in the region. Quite the contrary, the extractive practices described
here have consumed not only the physical and economic well-being of
those who live in the study areas, but the very ecosystems they depend
upon for their long-term survival. As another Karen farmer turned logger
put it, “When the nex t generation is asked where their parents l ived , they
will not be able to say anything because the land will have been destroyed
and there won’t be anything left to show them.”
The case study outlined here raises a number of important issues—among
them, the possibility that the binaries that have long informed popular
understandings of the ongoing violence in Burma no longer hold, indeed
if they ever really did. This is not to suggest that the political aspiration of
dierent ethnic “nationalities” have disappeared or that state-sponsored
forms of forced assimilation (commonly known as “Myanma-ication”)
have declined; rather, it is to note that access to and control over dierent
kinds of natural resources—some licit, others not—have always played a
crucial role in the forms of “private indirect government” found in Burma’s
border regions, many of which long predate the entrepreneurial turn. The
most important of these involves the use of regulated violence to extract
primary commodities and to discipline the ethnically diverse populations
found in the concessions. Over time, these practices have fostered the
growth of multiple networks of regulator y authority and wealth accu-
mulation based on the continued redistribution of primar y commodities,
rents, and other assets across political, economic, and cultural boundaries.
The Rise of Private Indirect Government in Burma
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Consequently, the military regime’s ability to exert centralized control
over the concessions and the sub- and transnational networks they sustain
has paradoxically grown both stronger and weaker.
Greater attention to these actually existing forms of government thus
oers one way to critically rethink the history of insurgency and counterin-
surgency in post-colonial Burma which, although it must include ethnicity,
is nonetheless not reducible to identity politics.19 Recognizing this point is
particularly urgent in light of the upcoming elections scheduled for later this
year. While no one expects them to be free or fair, the process will inevitably
result in some changes, including unanticipated opportunities to enhance
the human security of those in Burma. But for this to be a possibility, state
and non-state actors genuinely concerned with the country’s future need to
rethink their existing policies on sanctions and engagement, as these have
contributed to the very problems outlined here. Indeed, the long-standing
preoccupation with “regime change” by one means or another has led us to
neglect the extent to which the contradictor y mix of sanctions and engage-
ment have already changed the regime, albeit in ways few of us anticipated or
desired. Clearly the time has come to move beyond either/or positions on this
debate to pursue exible, yet principled approaches that strategically address
the urgent humanitarian needs of the ordinary Burmese as well as provide
alternatives to the unregulated destruction of the country’s ecosystems.
1. The literature on this topic is now vast. For a foundationa l statement, see the
United Nat ions Development Programme, Human Development Report ( Ne w Yo rk :
UNDP, 1994). For past reports, see
2. Moisés Naím, Illicit: How Smug glers, Trackers, and Copycats are Hijacking the
Global Economy (New York: Doubleday, 2005).
3. Tyler Giannini and et al. Crimes in Burma (Cambridge: The International
Human R ig hts Clinic, Har vard Un iversity L aw School, 20 09); A mnesty
International, Crimes against Humanity in Eastern Burma ( London: AI, 2008).
4. James Scott, “Freedom a nd Freehold: Space, People, and State Simplications
in Southeast Asia,” in Freedoms: The Freedom in East and Southeast Asia, ed. D. Kelly
and A . Reid, 37– 64 (Cambridge: Cambr idge Un iversity Press, 1998).
5. Simon Roughneen, “Quintana Recommends UN War Crimes Commission
on Burma,” The Irrawaddy, March 11, 2010),
Ken MacLean
| 52 |
6. Morten Pedersen, Promoting Human Rights in Burma: A Critique of Western
Sanctions Policy (Lanham, M D: Row ma n & Littleeld, 2007); Ken MacLean,
“Recong uring the Debate on Engagement: Burma and the Changing Politics of
Aid ,” Critical Asian Studies 36 (3) (2 00 4): 323–354.
7. Eric Stover and et al., The Gathering Storm: Infectious Diseases and Human Rights
in Burma (Berkeley: Human Rights Center of the Universit y of California-Berkeley
and t he Center for Public Health and Human Right s of the Johns Hopk in s
Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2007).
8. David Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know ( New Yor k:
Oxford University Press, 2010).
9. Zaw Oo and Win M in, Assessing Burma’s Ceasere Accords (Honolulu: East-
West Center, 2007).
10. Nancy Peluso and Joe Nevins, eds., Taking Southeast Asia to Market: Commod-
ities, Nature, and People in a Neo-liberal Age (Ithaca: Cor nel l Univer sit y Press, 2008).
11. For cur rent g ures, see the Thai Burma Border Consortium, Protracted
Displacement and Militarization in Eastern Burma (Bangkok: TBBC, 2009), h t t p ://
12. Achille Mbembe, On Pr ivate Indirect Government (Senega l: Council for the
Development of Social Science Research in Af rica, 200 0) and his On the Postcolony
(Berkeley: University of California Pres s, 2 001), 66–101.
13. Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 78–79.
14. See Earth Rights International, Capitalizing on Conict: Logging and Mining
in Burma’s Cease-Fire Zones. (Washing ton D.C.: ER I and Karen Env ironmental
and Social Action Network, 2003); EarthRights Internationa l, Turning Treasure into
Tears: Mining, Dams, and Deforestation in Shwegyin Township, Pegu Division, Burma
(Washington D.C.: ERI, 2007 ),
15. Ken MacLean, “Spaces of Extraction: Actually Existing Governance along
the River ine Net works of Nyaunglebin District,” in Myanmar: the State, Community
and the Environment, ed. Monique Sk idmore and Trevor Wilson, 246 –267
(Canberra: Asia-Pacic Press, Australian National Universit y, 2007); “Sovereig nty
after the Entrepreneurial Turn: Mosaics of Control, Commodied Spaces, and
Regulated Violence in Contemporary Bur ma,” in Taking Southeast Asia to Market:
Commodities: Nature, and People in a Neoliberal Age, ed. Nancy Peluso and Joe Nevins,
140–157 (Ithaca: Cornell University Pre ss, 2008).
16. Aihwa Ong, “Graduated Sovereig nty in South-East Asia,” Theory, Culture, &
Society 17 (4) (2000): 55–75.
17. Karen Env iron mental and Social Action Network (KESAN), Thulei Kawwei
1, no.4.
18. KESA N (per sonal commun ication, August 3, 2003).
19. For a useful overview, see Ash ley South, Ethnic Politics in Burma: States of
Conict (London: Routledge, 2010).
... Although these agreements never addressed the ethnic recognition, and armed conflict continued in other areas, these agreements brought a relative stability to some ethnic minority areas (especially Kachin state). This, in turn, allowed for large scale exploitation of natural resources in areas that were not accessible to the central state before the ceasefires (Brenner, 2015;Kiik, 2016;MacLean, 2010). ...
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Amid Myanmar’s political transition and despite its new government’s discourse of inclusion and dialogue, land conflicts have increased across the country’s ethnic-minority areas. We argue that land plays a central role in the complex interplay of state formation, armed conflict and international development in Myanmar’s contested borderlands and that land conflicts can provide an entry point to make sense of these dynamics. We use ethnographic data and a framework combining Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of assemblages with Foucault’s conception of power to provide a detailed analysis of a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) addressing land disputes in Myanmar’s south-east. Analysing the platform’s discourses, practices and technologies, we argue that, despite its emphasis on inclusion, participation and dialogue, it is the operation of power that upholds this inherently conflictive assemblage. The platform opens spaces for agency for less-influential actors, but it equally produces de-politicising and exclusive effects. While scholars have typically used assemblage thinking to analyse how state authority is disassembled by the growing role of non-state actors, we aim to further post-structural reflections on state formation and international development by arguing that the central state in Myanmar actually expands its reach into the borderlands through assemblages such as the MSP. This happens at the expense of the authority of quasi-state formations of ethnic armed organisations. Thus, this process is reminiscent of how the Burmese state expanded its reach through assemblages of land and resource extraction during the ‘ceasefire capitalism’ before the transition.
Through ethnography of de-agrarianization and extraction in Myanmar, the article shows how threshold subjects – poor laborers uncertain whether they are relatively or absolutely unnecessary to the social system of profits and distribution – become vulnerable to the necroeconomy, a system of value extraction constituted by combining extraction processes that spatially, mechanically, and politically require death-making; willing laborers driven by debt, dispossession, and existential desperation; and biopolitical abandonment (by states or corporations) of subjects to the carnage of extraction. The article considers what politics may be inhabited by the threshold subject, given s/he is both simultaneously surplus and essential to social reproduction.
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Economic justice was the catch-cry of Burma’s independence struggle and a defining issue of postcolonial party politics. Yet, despite severe economic disparities and social vulnerability, class and inequality are now largely absent from the ideology and policy platform of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). What explains the absence of class inequality from contemporary Burmese politics? Drawing on historical research and extensive fieldwork in provincial Myanmar since 2013, this article focuses on how the junta’s post-1988 strategy of state-building shaped the political development of the NLD. It focuses specifically on how the military junta’s dissembling of Ne Win’s dysfunctional welfare state, control over market reform, and selective suppression of civil society privileged economic elites and religious philanthropic networks within the democracy movement while undermining labour activists and more overtly partisan groups. The resulting weakness of class-based interests within the democracy movement prior to 2011 has enabled commercial elites and market solutions to steer the organisational and ideological direction of Myanmar’s most prominent democratic political vehicle, the NLD, since liberalisation. Reflecting these social and institutional constraints, after taking office in 2016 the programmatic agenda of Suu Kyi’s NLD has plotted market liberalisation, foreign investment, and individual moral revival as the primary paths to a more “democratic” Myanmar, largely ignoring the dire inequality and economic injustices bequeathed by military dictatorship. If Myanmar’s democracy is to endure, the article concludes that structural reforms must be advanced, especially by the NLD, which encourage political representatives to address the precarity experienced by ordinary people.
In recent decades, Myanmar has been wracked by repeated disasters that have prompted extraordinary civilian-led relief efforts. This article situates non-state aid and relief as a product of the military junta’s outsourcing of responsibility for welfare following the end of the socialist dictatorship in 1988. Drawing on historical accounts of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and ethnographic fieldwork during Cyclone Komen in 2015, the article argues that the outpouring of aid during natural catastrophes exposes moral conceptualizations of citizenship – often actively encouraged by government officials – in which commercial elites, welfare groups and ordinary people, rather than the state, have moral duties to render aid and relief in the wake of catastrophe. Focusing on the idioms and mechanisms through which non-state actors stretch the boundaries of moral duty from the local to the translocal needy, the paper asks: who gets included, and how, in visions of moral community which symbolically enable non-state relief efforts? Despite the emancipatory promise of moral citizenship, this research shows that non-state relief can also exacerbate social hierarchies and entrench exclusion, as it renders access to emergency aid contingent on inclusion in socially bounded imaginaries of reciprocity.
This first section starts off by providing an insight into the situation of marketplaces in today’s socialist-oriented market economy of Vietnam. It then discusses the three core theoretical concepts on which this book is based—uncertainty, trust and morality—and revisits them within the broader framework of neoliberalism but from a predominantly anthropological perspective. Emphasis is given to individual agency and to perceptions and motivations of traders so as to account for the complexity of decision-making processes. In addition, the chapter elaborates on the Vietnamese family and its changing relation vis-à-vis the state. Finally, a short discussion of the research methodology completes the chapter. (104 words)
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For the past fifteen years, the question of whether it was possible to "engage" Burma's successive military regimes to achieve constructive change has dominated policy discussions in regional and international forums. This article examines how this question has structured the terms of the debate and prevented a compromise position that might have averted the present humanitarian crisis. Information drawn from research conducted with a wide range of Burmese pro-democracy activists based in Thailand also indicates that this humanitarian crisis has thrown many time-honored positions on engagement into flux. The growing diversity of viewpoints has produced several strategies to address the immense problems confronting the country. Regardless of which strategy is favored, three issues are of importance to activists: the changing nature of political legitimacy in the Burmese context; the right of exiles to participate in the country's affairs; and the problems associated with the military's continuing use of forced labor. This article examines these issues against the backdrop of shifting regional and international interests, with special attention focused on the viewpoints of expatriate Burmese who support a significant increase in different forms of cross-border aid, while maintaining sanctions on the regime. The article warns that this approach may actually be worse than the problems it seeks to solve. Evidence is presented to illustrate how the possibility of resuming international aid to Burma has increased political factionalism and ethnic divisions among different expatriate groups rather than resolving these long-standing problems.
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What fundamental changes in the state, and in the analysis of the state, have been stimulated by economic globalization? In the course of interactions with global markets and regulatory agencies, so-called Asian tiger countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have created new economic possibilities, social spaces and political constellations, which in turn condition their further actions. The shifting relations between market, state, and society have resulted in the state's flexible experimentations with sovereignty. Graduated sovereignty refers to a) the different modes of governing segments of the population who relate or do not relate to global markets; and b) the different mixes of legal compromises and controls tailored to the requirements of special production zones. The Asian financial crisis further demonstrates the concept of graduation in that the market-oriented agenda can mean different things, strengthening state power and protections in certain areas, but not in others.
The literature on this topic is now vast. For a foundational statement, see the United Nations Development Programme
The literature on this topic is now vast. For a foundational statement, see the United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report (New York: UNDP, 1994). For past reports, see
Crimes in Burma (Cambridge: The International Human Rights Clinic
  • Tyler Giannini
Tyler Giannini and et al. Crimes in Burma (Cambridge: The International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard University Law School, 2009);
Freedom and Freehold: Space, People, and State Simplifications in Southeast Asia
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James Scott, "Freedom and Freehold: Space, People, and State Simplifications in Southeast Asia," in Freedoms: The Freedom in East and Southeast Asia, ed. D. Kelly and A. Reid, 37-64 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Quintana Recommends UN War Crimes Commission on Burma The Irrawaddy
  • Simon Roughneen
Simon Roughneen, " Quintana Recommends UN War Crimes Commission on Burma, " The Irrawaddy, March 11, 2010), php?art_id=18013.