Harsha Navaratne is the Chairperson of Sewalanka Foundation
Photo: Sewalanka


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In May 2009, after nearly three decades of civil war, the Sri Lankan military claimed victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Harsha Navaratne, a Sri Lankan development practitioner, has spent more than 30 years working in the conflict-affected areas and is the Chairperson of Sewalanka Foundation, one of the largest Sri Lankan development organisations. Rural 21 wanted to learn from him whether and how the country has taken advantage of its potential for rural recovery.

 Mr Navaratne, which phenomenon has been most characteristic of Sri Lanka since the end of the war?

When you consider the development potential, you need to look at it from a historical perspective. Ethnic violence in Sri Lanka is rooted in our electoral politics. We were one of the first countries in the world to have democratic elections with universal voting rights for men and women.

During those early elections, political debates focused on class, but it didn’t take long for the political elite to change the debate to ethnicity. Political parties became divided along ethnic lines. The politicians used political patronage in the form of government services and development aid to get votes. Access to political power and development resources was dependent on ethnicity and political party, and the country became increasingly divided.

People have experienced more than 30 years of brutal violence, and it has affected more than just physical infrastructure and economic activities.

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