Myanmar is a country in transition. Since 2010, a series of democratic reforms have opened up the country to new opportunities. There is hope that this process might bring about the social, economic and political reforms necessary to finally establish conditions for peace in the country, after decades of civil war and authoritarian rule.
However, many challenges remain. New elements of democratic governance are combining with old authoritarian attitudes and practices to create challenging and often unpredictable conditions for change. To help achieve lasting peace in Myanmar, the state, civil society and international community need support in establishing platforms that encourage more open and inclusive dialogue and debate. In order to create the conditions for lasting, sustainable peace, these reforms need to include the local business community, involve women, and be sensitive to the complex, evolving, but deep-seated, conflict dynamics.
International Alert has been working in Myanmar since 2012, in particular supporting the development of such platforms in the country’s special economic zones (SEZs), where much of the new investment and development is taking place. Our strategy has been to support local actors to engage in dialogue over these investments through building the capacity of multiple stakeholders in conflict-sensitive economic governance.
To achieve this, Alert has held trainings and workshops on conflict-sensitive economic governance with businesses, government representatives and civil society actors, organised in partnership with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce Inc. (UMFCCI) and with the Myanmar Business Coalition on AID (MBCA).
In January, with financial support from the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Alert and MBCA ran a three-day training-workshop customised for the context and challenges of the SEZs in Myanmar. The event, which was held at the Summit Parkview Hotel in Yangon from 14–16 January, was attended by 22 people from business groups, civil society organisations and SEZ management committee members from Yangon, Mandalay, Muse and Sittwe.
Comprising of 12 interactive sessions, the workshop blended theories and practical examples of institutional change and multiplicity, development management, public administration and political economy with increasing capacity and practice in business leadership, institutional reform, risk and stakeholder analysis, economic bargaining and political settlements. The sessions made use of a diverse set of case studies from both Myanmar and the wider southeast Asia region.
By the end of the training, participants said they felt more confident in handling conflict peacefully, and had developed skills in negotiation and listening to others. They were acquainted with tools for analysing decisions on programming, risks and opportunities, and gained a deeper understanding of existing and potential conflict dynamics, risks and consequences. They also learned new skills to help them assess the interests and roles of different conflict actors, and the relationships between them.
Over the coming months, we will be delivering further conflict-sensitive economic governance training to businesses, civil society organisations and government representatives in Myanmar. We will also continue to support the process of developing the SEZs and other economic development projects in the country, in order to try to ensure that these processes of economic development can help support the conditions for sustainable peace in Myanmar.