Reaping the Harvest of Peace?

The Politics of Reconstruction during Sri Lanka's 2002 Peace Process

Author: Camilla Orjuela


When the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) entered into a peace process in 2002, the term “peace dividend” was often used, both in and outside the peace negotiations. The need to reconstruct and normalize war-torn areas was identified as a shared interest between the parties. It was believed that if ordinary people could reap the harvest of peace through improved living conditions, they would also support the peace process. Curiously, the link between a peace dividend and popular support for peace was never critically scrutinized. This article argues that far from being a “neutral” shared interest of the two parties, reconstruction of the war-affected areas was high-voltage politics, intimately interlinked with security and political structures. Both the LTTE and the government wanted to control and use reconstruction efforts to “win the hearts and minds” of the people. While the political struggle for control over reconstruction was fought at the elite level, grassroots people in the war zone — the supposed beneficiaries of a peace dividend — were engaged in their own everyday life struggles and had concerns that were quite different from those brought up by their self-proclaimed spokespersons. Villagers interviewed in northern Sri Lanka, for example, had few expectations of outside assistance. Their support for the peace process was not conditional upon visible, material benefits. An end to violence was sufficient inducement for them. And thus, the idea advanced by donors, diplomats, and peace negotiators that reconstruction was needed to build support for the peace process, proved to be more rhetoric than substance.
Regions: South Asia
Countries: Sri Lanka

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