The Gates of Paradise are Open ... but Who Benefits? Experiences from Post-War Sri Lanka.

Author:Najab, Nadhiya

This article is written in response to the theme of "eradicating poverty as a means of conflict prevention". By asking whether the eradication of poverty prevents conflict, we reflect upon its complexity and interdependence with other aspects of modern day life. To focus solely on poverty reduction as a means of conflict prevention is somewhat reductive. Empirical work done on post-war Sri Lanka shows that the symbiotic relationship between poverty and conflict falls beyond the scope of simplistic analysis. After all, poverty is only one of many contributing factors to conflict. On the other hand, poverty itself is a multidimensional phenomenon. Similarly, conflict exacerbates poverty in many ways, by stunting growth, destroying investments and breaking down service delivery. Firsthand experience provides countless stories of deprivations that people suffer during war. This article looks beyond these binaries to emphasize that conflict and poverty remain interlinked even after armed warfare ends, highlighting the fact that structural inequalities hinder both conflict prevention and poverty reduction. Conflict prevention, we argue, must position itself intersectionally and holistically, with an eye to transforming these structural inequalities.

It is difficult to resist the promise suggested by economic development. At the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the A9 highway,1 which had been closed for several years, was reopened. S. Sivananthan, a government executive officer, commented that "the gates of paradise [were] now open to the people of Jaffna" (Parameswaram, 2009). What Sivananthan meant was that the connection between the north and the rest of the country would improve infrastructure, transportation, enhance commerce and bring a host of other economic opportunities. At that time of endless possibilities, entrepreneurs, aid agencies, corporations and government bodies rushed to 'build back better', and provide the much-needed boost to livelihood and economic recovery deemed necessary at the end of the three-decade long civil war, opening up communities to reconstruction and economic rehabilitation. The Government of Sri Lanka at the time equated economic development with poverty reduction and in fact touted economic development as the mantra to resolve all grievances.

The rush towards economic development, especially in postwar contexts, is linked to the established idea that economically stable and thriving communities are less likely to find themselves in a conflict situation (USAID, 2006; Galster, 2015). 'Building better' is understood as prevention, and extant scholarship argues that fragility stemming from chronic poverty and associated inequalities exposes and sustains deep structural vulnerabilities to violence, especially in communities that experience continuous cycles of conflict (Chandler and Sisk, 2013, p. xx). Similarly, the 2011 World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development and a policy paper of the Department for International Development entitled "Economic Development Strategy: prosperity, poverty and meeting global challenges" argue that stagnation and underdevelopment in the post-conflict phase can easily push countries back into violence (2017).

The investment--both government and private--in Sri Lanka has proved beneficial on paper. "The Sri Lankan economy has seen robust annual growth at 6.4 per cent over the course of 2003 to...

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