Author Archives: Johanna Fernando

Go right past the last tent in the third row and you’ll find the ATM…

ATMs and refugee/IDP camps are not usually two things I think about in the same context. Apparently, I should have been thinking more creatively. According to this article in India’s The Hindu (read down to the second half of the article), the Government of Sri Lanka has had to open bank branches and even ATMs for IDPs in the country’s northern region. In the wake of the end of hostilities, and despite the refugees’ increasingly tenuous humanitarian situation, there has been demand for banking services – from people who had literally been carrying their savings in their clothes and suitcases as they fled fighting between the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka. According to The Hindu, in the first few days of the temporary bank branches’ opening, on average 5 million rupees (about $43,500) was deposited each day, with 12 million rupees (about $104,400) deposited on the first day alone. One individual deposited 3.4 million rupees (nearly $30,000). The demand for ATM services has been such that the temporary branches are already issuing ATM cards, and Internet-based money transfer services are being offered as well.

 

I find this interesting for a number of reasons. One, that these Tamil civilians have such a degree of trust in the Government of Sri Lanka that they would entrust their life savings to these banks evinces a certain degree of trust in the government generally. Against the horrific experiences that everyone in Sri Lanka has undergone over the past two and a half decades of conflict, this is a positive development. Regardless of where an individual’s sympathies were placed (with the LTTE or the government), those who have made the deposits have made it clear that they are looking into the future from a very practical standpoint.

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25 years of… making the world a better place

Call me an idealist, but I am positively inspired by the stories I’ve heard over the past several months from my colleagues here at CIPE. I’ve had the great pleasure of talking with, well, just about everyone at CIPE about the accomplishments of our partners over the past year as we’ve put together CIPE’s 2008 annual report. I remember my colleagues saying things like…

“I think we should talk about how people in Ghana have had this unprecedented opportunity to participate in the political process through the presidential and parliamentary debates ahead of the December 2008 elections. Many communities, for the first time, organized debates for their parliamentary representatives. Because of the debates, people found out what their representatives’ views actually were. In a lot of places, the incumbent was voted out of office in favor of the more qualified candidate.”

“We HAVE to talk about the Bishkek Business Club (BBC). They have done so much over the past several years – their ability to bring together Kyrgyzstan’s business community has been really amazing. They are just so persistent about creating dialogue with the government, and it shows. The government is actually listening to the business community, even asking for its input, precisely because of BBC’s efforts.” (Having lived in Kyrgyzstan and having seen how little interaction there has been between government and ordinary people, I cannot applaud enough the magnitude of this accomplishment.)

I also had the pleasure of speaking with Hernando de Soto about his letter in the report’s introduction. As CIPE’s first partner, he has a unique perspective on the value of CIPE’s approach. For me personally, it means a lot to work with an organization that is, as de Soto remarked, “in touch with the emerging-market perspective.” De Soto approached CIPE back in 1984 because CIPE staff “understood” what he and the Institute for Liberty and Democracy were trying to do. In my personal experience, I’ve seen well-meaning international organizations in a number of countries miss huge opportunities because they haven’t started by listening to the local people. Conversely, organizations that let local priorities shape their strategy are often the most successful.

The CIPE 2008 Annual Report

The CIPE 2008 Annual Report

Celebrating 25 years of strengthening democracy through market-oriented reform, CIPE’s 2008 annual report details these stories and many, many more. Hear what our partners have said about CIPE over the years, and be inspired!

What would you like to say to CIPE on its 25th anniversary? What story would YOU like to tell?

Relevant lessons

Several years back, I had the privilege (and challenge!) of teaching English for a couple years in a rural village in Central Asia. Almost before I got out my very first “Good morning, class!” my students were asking me why they should even bother learning a language they would never use. Ah ha! I had come to class prepared; I told them that [1] learning any new language is a good mental exercise and can help us understand things about other cultures as well as our own, [2] knowing English gives you a huge advantage in a developing economy – many of the new job opportunities opening up (in IT or tourism, for example) almost require English proficiency, and [3] you just never know when it might come in handy.

My answers were met with blank looks. I could hear the placid chewing of the local cows standing outside in the mud, right below our classroom window. Munch, munch…

I was going to have to do better than that. Some of my students quietly agreed with me (these were the ones who had planned to go to university to become English teachers), while others gently and bemusedly reminded me that they really didn’t need to know how to speak English to be good at herding sheep on the jailoo. I didn’t get a great response from the future potato farmers, either. As the weeks passed, many of my students actually became quite excited about learning a new language and made very thoughtful contributions to our class, but I had already learned something very important about teaching: the lesson must be RELEVANT.

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Slipping up on the details

It’s difficult to know exactly what is happening in the north of Sri Lanka these days (media representatives are not allowed into the conflict-riddled war zone), but it’s clear that recent police actions in Colombo could have potentially disastrous effects – in an area rather open to international scrutiny at the moment. As reported by The Economist and the BBC, civilians who have arrived from the northern [Tamil-majority] areas to the [Sinhalese-majority] capital and surrounding areas in the past five years have, over the past week, been required to register with the police, supposedly in an effort to combat the suicide attacks that have become tragically more frequent of late.

The “census,” as it is being called, could of course be just that – a simple tally of how many people are living where, most of them ethnic Tamils. Yet set against the context of the government’s recent push to end the war in the north, such a list could have a sinister application in the hands of the wrong people. Now – today, right now, and before it is too late – is the time to ask why the census has been taken, and to what end it will be used. The government has not announced what it intends to do with this information. We should be reminded that at other times in history, such lists have played conveniently into the plans of ethnic elitists.

While no one is watching, we may later discover later that the freedoms of these Tamils have quickly slipped away into what could be a truly horrific humanitarian crisis. In a country where media freedom is granted only selectively, the world needs to be taking a good hard look at what is currently being reported. And it needs to be asking what is going to be done with that list.

Free press has a price

Building an independent and informed media couldn’t be more important for Kyrgyzstan. For much of the country, public access to information is limited to thin weekly newspapers and nightly national news broadcasts. Still, Kyrgyzstan has one of the most open media environments in Central Asia.

So when Alisher Saipov, a 26-year-old Uzbek journalist living in Kyrgyzstan, was shot dead earlier this week as he left his office in the southern city of Osh, it was a significant blow to those working to build a strong media. (See the New York Times article.) While the circumstances and motivations surrounding Saipov’s murder aren’t yet clear (he was known as much for helping Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan in 2005 after the horrible events in Andijan as he was for founding the Uzbek-language Siyosat newspaper and his work with Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), the tragedy certainly has brought attention to issue of free media in Central Asia.

For Kyrgyz citizens who live in Bishkek or the country’s handful of other cities, accessing a diverse array of quality information is now as easy as taking a walk to the internet café. For those who live in rural villages and even the larger towns, it may be more problematic. Television is Truth for many of these people, and without a range of perspectives or analytical tools, citizens often have skewed perspectives of current events and politics. Questionable “documentaries,” news broadcast under heavy state influence, and sometimes even movies are accepted at face value.

It is crucial that a culture of independent media is supported in Central Asia, particularly in the face of those who, literally, would kill it. In Kyrgyzstan, the reforms that resulted from the political upheaval in 2005 depend on the support of a public informed by quality journalism. Relevant policies that support economic growth and a free market depend on media analysis and constructive debate. (CIPE is partnering with the Kyrgyz Institute for Public Policy to train young journalists in quality reporting practice.) As reformers across Central Asia mourn Saipov, I hope their resolve and commitment to reform are strengthened, and I certainly hope for a future in which they will be able to write and report free from threat.

Just a word

As I was reading the news pouring out of Burma this morning, a BBC article caught my eye… should we be referring to Burma or Myanmar when we speak of the loud calls for democratic reform coming out of the protests in Southeast Asia? While Myanmar is the country’s official name, says the BBC, Burma is its traditional name and that used by the democratic opposition and other states (like the United States and the UK) that do not support the incumbent military regime. While both names are accepted internationally, a speaker’s choice of Burma or Myanmar can sometimes indicate a political position.

This got me thinking. Here at CIPE, we try to be very careful with words – even seemingly small subtleties of meaning can imply hugely different things. Oversight and overlook can make for an amusing sentence when they are interchanged, but more seriously, while collaborate and cooperate have very similar meanings, in some areas of the world collaborate has a fascist connotation. Crucially, CIPE communicates that it seeks democratic and economic development. Since the two are so intimately connected in practice (CIPE’s mission is to strengthen democracy THROUGH private enterprise and market-oriented reform), it would almost be misleading to talk about “economic reform” alone.

In diplomacy and the practice of international relations, just one word can be the difference between a successful peace agreement and failed negotiations. While a leader may not wish to appear rude or hostile, a nuance in tone can have disastrous consequences. Likewise, even small efforts at politeness and coexistence can go a long way.

While what really matters in Burma, rightly noted by human rights groups, is not if the international community ultimately decides on Burma or Myanmar, but rather the success of current calls for reform and the end of human rights abuses. Still, it’s worth a second thought… what are we really trying to say?

And the winner is…

What country has no official political parties?
Azadi Tower marks the gateway into what state?
What religion has no known single founder or single sacred scripture?

If you answered Somalia, Iran, and Shinto (Kami), you could have been a viable contender in last Thursday’s (August 23) WorldQuest competition at Busboys and Poets here in DC. CIPE’s formidable team of Brooke Millis (South Asia program officer), Dan O’Maley (Global program assistant), Sarah Siegel (Global program officer), and Danny Waggoner (Eastern Europe program assistant), nearly won the competition, just one point from first place entering the tiebreaker rounds. In the final “sudden death” round, CIPE’s team came in a close fourth, just points behind the winning team.

Similar to a quiz bowl game, the World Affairs Council of DC’s WorldQuest competition comprises seven rounds of questions related to international affairs – with categories such as international institutions, global politics and statistics, flags, and culture/entertainment. Teams of four work together to answer the trivia questions; CIPE benefited from a diverse set of expertise and experience. So, until next time… GO TEAM!