Showing posts from 2013

Christmas is all around me

I don’t really DO Christmas... and my best December 25ths have been spent in  London in my sister’s flat, drinking the rather lethal hot punch my brother-in-law prepares, watching Bond movies on television while the men (brother-in-law and son) prepare the Christmas meal; stuffing myself up with whatever fantastic menu they decide to lay out at whatever time (brunch, high tea, supper), and then full of good food and drink, falling asleep on the couch only to wake up on boxing day, happy that the whole event for that year at least, is behind me! 
This year I am in Colombo.   As season’s greetings flood my inbox, facebook, twitter, etc etc  and the Christmas songs reach such a crescendo on Gold FM as I drive frantically to and from Arpico, Selyn, Barefoot, Paradise Road, Rhithi (cannot handle a pre-Christmas ODEL, I am afraid) filling in the gaps in my gift list, there are three thoughts I would like to share with you...
The first thought  is related to a photograph of the Lanka Hospital…

with the Lords (and Ladies) of Poverty


Year 2014: Buddhist era 2557-2558

There was an interesting debate among colleagues that was triggered by the simple fact that I shared the official government calendar for 2014.  The Calendar has, as it has had in the previous year, and possibly many years prior to that,  the sub title -  Buddhist Era 2557-2558. This triggered a discussion on whether it was appropriate to have that on the calendar or not.  The argument against seemed to be based on it being seen as an imposition by the State of Buddhism, into areas that are perceived as secular and non-religious. [Though of course, as was pointed out,  the Gregorian Calendar is not really secular at all, based on the fact that it counts the years from the birth of Christ!]

What was interesting was that we were having this debate at all.  Obviously, the current context has made us all ultra sensitive to certain issues, and the whole question of a state religion led some of us to be uncomfortable, others to be resentful (not overtly manifest in this conversation)  and y…

Flood Control, or Flood Creation?

A couple of days ago some of us were talking about all the changes that were happening in Colombo. As readers of this blog might have noticed, these changes do not happen without some heartache for many of us old residents, though of course the real impact is on those residents who are being displaced or losing their homes and whose voices are not always heard on the likes of this blog.  For them it is much, much worse.  But read more about that here.

Our recent conversation was whether the beautification, a component, albeit a small component,  of the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project funded by the World Bank and which is, in essence, a flood control project was being monitored in its implementation, especially its accelerated CHOGM implementation.  We rather cynically observed, that if the new developments had not taken issues of drainage into account, they could result in more flooding, which of course would go contrary to the whole objectives of the project.. and lo and be…

with my transport professional hat on....

As the discussion on a new set of post-2015 development goals  gathers momentum, I wonder how far the transport sector has got to framing a discussion on transport development in the post-2015 development agenda.  The sector was slow in getting transport-related targets into the MDG conversation, so let’s hope there is greater energy getting mobility and access issues on to the agenda this time round.
As far as the discussions on the post-2015 development goals go, they seem to be moving towards integrating the need for sustainable development goals (SDGs) mooted in the discourse following the Rio+20 summit, and the next round of millennium development goals (MDGs).   If transport is to feed into this discussion, then I believe that we may need to go back to the fundamentals. Transport is about access and mobility and is a means to an end, whether that end is increasing economic growth or improving peoples’ access to services. In the current post-2015 discussions, the challenge is t…

Don't mention the war

Lawrence Kershen QC, Chair of the Restorative Justice Consortium, UK and I were having a chat before the Civil Society meeting with the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers yesterday at the Hilton Colombo.  Lawrence Kershen QC was a participant in the Commonwealth Peoples' Forum in Hikkaduwa  and chaired a parallel session  on reconciliation and development.  I was critical of the British Prime Minister, and particularly of the British Secretary of State for the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth's speech at the closing of the CPF.   He asked me what I think should have been the UK's approach.   I suggested that first, the UK shouldn't mention the war!

Sanjana Hattotuwa in his interview with George Alagiah on Galle Face Green   talks of some of the post-war issues that indeed the UK and other critics should have highlighted.

Watch this space for my own views on the Commonwealth Peoples' Forum and the posturing that took place around it..will take some time to write, s…

Wake me up when CHOGM ends

To be frank, I am a little bored with the nature of CHOGM bashing and all the hype in the western media, and I am really confused as to why the GOSL is bending over backwards to please the Commonwealth, which I thought was a pretty dead duck anyway.  It was funny this last week when I was driving a visiting Indian colleague around the city, and she said looking at all the work that is going on on the streets of Colombo – “Oh, Commonwealth, Commonwealth.. not very different to the Games in Delhi.. incredible how the streets got cleared of rubble and the evidence of frentic labour overnight!”  Maybe the Jewel in the Crown and its neighbours are still not free of our colonial shackles.    
Though of course pleasing the Commonwealth is perhaps not what it’s all about. It could just be about showing off to our own electorate. Much like the Al Jazeera interview,  or the appearance on Hard Talk.

And it could be about streng

Fairness and technology justice

Yesterday the Sunday Times had an article on the Dark is Beautiful campaign of which Nandita Das is a leader.  (Dark is Beautiful also has a facebook page if you want to follow their campaign).  I used the fairness cream cosmetic industry as a particular South Asian example of technology injustice in a roundtable on the subject  at Practical Action's recent Green Technology Exhibition.Technology justice is a concept that has become the rallying call of Practical Action (formerly ITDG and now transformed into Janathakshan in Sri Lanka)

Technology Justice is defined by Practical Action as “the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.”  An understanding of the concept is  generated largely through its opposite, technology injustice – and the focus seems to be on recognizing the unequal exploitation and use of resources, and trying to…

Talking economics as if people mattered (part 2)

Here as promised a gist of what I said at the 6th South Asian Economic Summit's Managing Urbanisation Inclusively  session...
The background to the session seemed to suggest that being ‘inclusive’  is about the rural-urban gap, looking at ways in which the rural labourers, left out of the growth that is being generated by the cities, are able to benefit from that growth.  
The result of this is a labour force which remains predominantly agricultural and rural, while a small proportion of the population – that which is urban and more highly-skilled enjoys the benefits of growth and integration with the global economy.
What I wanted to point out in this session was that growth within cities is not equal either.  If one begins to talk economics as if people mattered, then one would see that urban development is beginning to transform city space, and relationships between people living in the city, in ways  that privilege some city dwellers and not others.  This is a conversation that we…

Talking Economics as if people mattered

Spent the best of three days at the 6th SouthAsian Economic Summit hosted by IPS and held at the Cinnamon Grand this week.  Supposed to be the first certified carbon neutral conference in Sri Lanka, certified as such by the CarbonConsulting Company, and incredibly well organized by IPS, the Conference was a huge learning experience for me, as well as posing many questions and challenges.

The number of ‘suited’ South Asian men and the paucity of women delegates, the overwhelmingly economistic nature of the discussions (okay, so it is a Economic Summit) that discussed the most populous region in the world in terminology that only recognized demographics,populations and human capital and not real women, men and children, all made me somewhat tongue-tied and uncomfortable.  I was constantly being challenged to recognize the carbon neutrality of the event because more often than not, the breakout rooms were freezing, so was really pleased that Selima Ahmed, Founder President of the Bangla…

Your tax rupees at work - more about the laundry men, their livelihoods and space

see this video from Vikalpa

also just to confirm that it's all flattened - kovil and laundry - here's a photo from last week

Images and Memory

Interesting presentation by Kunda Dixit today at ICES, jointly hosted with CEPA.

Of course, the Nepali conflict was very different to the Sri Lankan one: the duration was 10 years, it was primarily a class war, not an ethnic one, and most important, at the end of the war there were no winners and losers.   Hence the possibility of formation of government that included the rebels, and even the integration of the Maoist rebels into the Nepali army.

Dixit talked about taking the photo exhibition to the conflict areas as well as showing it in Kathmandu.  The main message seems to be that the Nepali reaction to the conflict has been 'never again', that the people involved in the conflict have moved on in their personal lives despite the ever present spectre of the violence and its impacts, and that at some level the exhibition has been an opportunity for catharsis. That, at the level of the individual, and especially the ordinary women, men and children involved in the conflict.


Your tax rupees at work

I cycled this morning, on my usual route around the Beira and passed the washing lines of the dhoby community in Polwatte.  The last time I did so was just before Vesak.. and they were erecting a pandol in front of the washing lines.

But this morning the scene was very different.  The whole place had been razed to the ground.  Bits of the kovil are still left standing, but they have been asked to move as well.

Spoke with a few of the community that was hanging around.  They have been given space on the other side of the Beira, behind the Singer Company.  They are carrying out their occupation, but they are not happy.  But the priest  in the kovil didn't think that it was a suitable place to site a temple.  He was walking desolately among the ruins of his kovil.

The people I talked to told me that the space was being used for a car park and a helipad for Temple Trees.   There is a Bo Tree in the corner.  An old man who had lived here for 85 years was seated under it.  In the past …

Costume pageantry at the National Museum

I am not sure how many people who read this blog were at the HSBC Costume Pageant held in the Museum courtyard on the 17th of May, held in conjunction with the opening of the HSBC sponsored textile and pottery galleries.  I got a ticket through a friend in the organising committee, and went there with another friend, a Premier customer. We had some high expectations, and together with several others who were sitting around us, and who we met on our way out, we were sorely disappointed.    Unfortunately, not everyone was.  The organisers and the producer, a well known Sri Lankan choreographer, got many accolades, and personal congratulations.  I have been told that the government thought the pageant excellent and wanted to show it at the coming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, that several TV stations had wanted to air the video of the event.  I was also told that the organisers and the choreographer had sat with heavies in the archaeology field, and had done ‘lots of research…

There's more to empowering Sri Lankan women....

Check out the article Tehani Ariyaratne and I compiled for the LMD

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

“The real enemy is the man who tries to mould the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.”

In the context of the research to policy discussions that seem to dominate the 'knowledge sector' these days, the article whose title I have borrowed for the title of this blog, published in 1939 in Harpers' magazine seems particularly appropriate. In it American educator, Abraham Flexner explores the dangerous tendency to forego pure curiosity in favour of pragmatism. You have to sign up to Harpers to read the original. But try this link for more information.

Bumped into Allan G Johnson


and was introduced to Bonaro Overstreet

picked this from his (Allan's)  web page

Stubborn Ounces
(To one who doubts the worth of doing anything if you can’t do everything)

You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good; they will never prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
Bonaro Overstreet

the Human Development Report 2013

I am not sure what it is with the Human Development Report and the UNDP, but it must be for at least the second or third time, I was invited to talk at its launch in Colombo.  This time I was  part of a panel, moderated by Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy, and with His Excellency, John Rankin, the British High Commissioner and Dr B M S Batagoda, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury as co-panellists.  Mr Subinay Nandy, UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative, chaired the proceedings, and the Hon G L Pieris, Minister of External Affairs made the keynote address, and stayed on as a panelist.
Overall, the latest HDR seems to be a very different document to its predecessors.   A conversation on the semantics of the HDR and the etymology of the words used could be interesting.   Entitled “The rise of the South: Human Progess in a Diverse World” and focused on the ‘dramatic rebalancing of world economic power’ the report can be read as one that highlights how southern  (read non-OECD)  coun…

Re-imagining Development: a taste of CEPA Symposium 2012


Good morning Colombo - Ajith

Introducing Ajith, who I met this morning on my walk.  He comes often from Kompanniya Veediya where he lives to sit on this bench and watch the Beira Lake.  He is very happy that it has been cleaned up.  It was an urban jungle before, he told me.  There were shanties alongside, no room to walk around, and the lake itself was badly polluted.  They are removing the shanties in Kompanniya Veediya too, I asked.  Yes, he said, this area will become the residence of kings.  Me:where will the people go?   Ajith: Some are being sent to Avissawella, and some will get houses nearby, in Wanthamulla and other places.   Me: Isn't Avisawella too far?   Ajith: Yes of course,  but you see the governing party has not won the Colombo Municipal Council elections, it's always been UNP.  So there is a need to reconfigure the electorate and send some people away. And of course there is the importance of the settling suddhas., white people.   Me: They may not all be white, some maybe Indian.   Ajit…

Valentine's Day 2013

Thought I'd share this because it is the end of  Valentine's Day 2013

I felt it in my fingers
I felt it in my toes

 we were rising  this evening at Lipton's Circus Colombo..

and it showed....

on blogging....

Our communications colleagues are urging us to write blogs... and of course Duncan Green’s OxfamBlog from Poverty to Power, shows us how it can be done, effectively and usefully for the reader.  I follow Duncan avidly while marvelling how a single person can be so widely read, so connected and with such a pulse on what is going on, at least what is going on in the UK’s international development scene.  I’d like to think that he has an army of junior Oxfam volunteers feeding him stuff, and that he has infinite time on his hands because his private life is sad and lonely – though the sense of humour and slight self-deprecation suggests otherwise.  Other bloggers maybe equally prolific e.g. Enrique Mendizabal on  onthinktanks... but am not sure all his blogs are as grounded and relevant to us readers, some are extremely perspicacious, while others tend to ramble, the posts tend to be serious, with none of Duncan-type humour.  As for me,  I am not likely to forget our own IT guru, Sanjana…

shouldn't men be offended?

The gender insensitivity of  Sri Lanka's senior bureaucrats is outrageous!   Today, at the policy dialogue on Sri Lankans on the Move, an international conference on migration organised by the National Science Foundation, the top most bureaucrat  of  the Ministry that should be most sensitive to women and children issues, seemed to suggest that women's migration as domestic workers should be restricted because such migration leads to incest in the households. [He made some other interesting interventions so cannot be considered a complete write off!]  Basically, restrict women's right to movement, to earning income, achieving higher social status, becoming empowered,  just because men folk can't keep their w@!&$s  under control!  Sheez! On top of past comments by  our Ambassador to the US  and the Chairman of the SLBC one wonders whether the women's movement needs a campaign of penile amputations Thai style, to establish that it is the men that need to take re…