Background to the conflict
Since independence in 1948, Myanmar has been affected by continuous violent conflicts between at least 20 active ethnic armed organisations. These groups are seeking more autonomy from the central state and large swathes of the country have been affected by uprisings and insurgencies. The continued strong political role of the military and a centralisation of power add to the multiple causes of conflict in Myanmar.
Some peace has prevailed during ceasefire periods, but ceasefires have historically broken down. A 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was signed by ten ethnic armed organisations, excluding most of the largest and most heavily militarised groups. Since then conflict has increased in many communities, especially in the Northeast and Rakhine State, resulting in a stalled formal peace process despite significant investment being made on trying to foster peace.
The key challenge facing ongoing peace initiatives is that the barriers to peace have not yet been tackled at the national level, and international support fails to take account of this. Despite this, some cross-party agreement exists on the potential for federalism, although its actual meaning remains weakly defined.
Laying the foundations for peace
Smart Peace consortium partners including The Asia Foundation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, International Crisis Group, the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich, the Behavioural Insights Team and Chatham House are working in Myanmar to enable the reforms which are necessary for peace to take hold and build understanding of the measures needed to support peace.
Through undertaking thorough conflict analysis, Smart Peace is developing understanding of Myanmar’s recent conflicts in order to improve foreign assistance for peacebuilding. By increasing confidence between the different sides involved in the peace process, this work is creating a common vision of security sector reforms and a long-term national security transition.
In addition, the Smart Peace programme is improving understanding of the reforms needed in the civil governance sector, focusing on progress towards decentralisation and federalism. Through training on technical aspects of federalism, this work is enabling those involved in the conflict to engage in more constructive debate on what federalism involves in practice, what it means in the context of Myanmar, and what the implications are for the agendas of the ethnic armed organisations as well as the government’s approach to the peace process.
Smart Peace is a global consortium led by Conciliation Resources which combines the expertise of consortium members to address the challenges of building peace – focusing on the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Myanmar. This work combines peacebuilding techniques, conflict analysis, rigorous evaluation and behavioural insights. The resulting lessons will help communities, international organisations and governments to implement peace strategies with greater confidence.
This project is funded with UK aid from the UK government.
Photo Credit: Daniel Lombraña González, Creative Commons.