|Don’t fail the
There is a
reason why tiny, little-heard-of states in Latin America and the
Caribbean are often called ‘Banana Republics.’ The term was
coined by Author of Cabbages and Kings, American humourist, O.
Henry, whose reference to Honduras as a ‘banana republic’
brought the phrase into common usage in the context of a certain
breed of nation states.
These countries are characterised by their dependence on foreign
aid, are constantly in the grip of a revolution, presided over
by a dictatorial military ‘junta’ or ruling elite that sits in
the lap of luxury, exaggerating its own power and importance,
while its citizens are almost always caught in a vicious snare
of contentious politics, bloody violence and depressing poverty.
In today’s democratic (for the most part) world, such
‘republics’ are also referred to as ‘failed states’.
Sri Lanka may not fit geographically into O. Henry’s pigeon
hole, it is certainly starting to take on certain disturbingly
similar features. The time has come, therefore, as the Walrus
said, to talk now of many things, for silence would be
tantamount failing ourselves.
The capital Colombo is a garrison city, barracks and barricades
meet the eye at every street corner. Completely defeating the
purpose of the uniflow system which was introduced to ease
congestion on Colombo’s highways, roads are closed off at
random, suspending the traffic flow and creating congestion for
miles at peak hours, to allow a VIP motorcade to pass by. Even
walking is prohibited when a VIP decides to ply Colombo’s
streets, with pedestrians now being hustled into the nearest
compound and held there at polite gunpoint by armed soldiers.
Too often now, the citizens are left pondering exactly who the
security forces are bound to protect – the people or the
political leadership. While all necessary precautions must be
taken to prevent the country slipping into a state of anarchy if
the political leadership is annihilated, the people cannot be
made to feel that their safety will be at any cost and no matter
what the degree of inconvenience and harassment to the public.
Getting to a meeting on time has never been harder and the
number of hours spent on travel during the working day has
increased exponentially in recent times. All this translates
eventually into a loss of man hours, decreased productivity and
a colossal waste of energy and fuel – all factors that spell
doom for an already beleaguered economy. After millions spent on
video conferencing equipment and the technology now available,
the time may be ripe to begin thinking out of the box when it
comes to high level government meetings and the travel of senior
government members and prime LTTE targets. If the people can put
up with so much inconvenience, the least the ‘kings’ can do, is
to give the bullet proof cars a rest occasionally and come up
with alternative systems to minimise the hassle and heartache
for the ordinary citizen on a daily basis.
We are, ceasefire agreement notwithstanding and for all intents
and purposes, a nation at war. In attempting to lay siege upon
the enemy and neutralise their power bases, we are ourselves
besieged. By definition then, a nation on a war footing must
take all necessary precautions to ensure its nerve centres are
safeguarded from infiltration and terrorist threat and in doing
so, a certain school of thought would argue, that civil
liberties and the citizen’s right to ‘hassle-free’ living must
surrender to a higher cause.
Indeed, a patriotic public may agree to grin and bear it for a
time, if it means that the government will move swiftly to
militarily defeat the LTTE and ensure that peace comes at last
to this land that way. History teaches that this has always been
easier said than done. A war that continues indefinitely will
mean that the people’s patience also wears thin.
Already, the strains are beginning to show. We are a people bent
double by the cost of living, with no hope of economic revival
any time in the near future. The legislative arm of the
government is almost a non-entity, with power vested in a
tightly knit circle of players to whose beat the country is now
being compelled to march. The prospect of all out war looms
ahead of us and the government shows little or no sign of being
interested in pursuing a political solution to the north east
problem. Tourists and investors are on the run and our defence
bills are skyrocketing. From an economic perspective, Sri Lanka
is fast approaching ‘failed state’ status; let us hope that her
leaders do not fail the people.