“People are resettled not in their former or original places—rather, in a different place where they cannot continue their occupation. For instance, a fisherman was resettled in a place where neither sea nor access to sea is possible. This is a fatal mistake of the government.”

 —From Sri Lanka


INTRODUCTION

“Now the armed struggle is clearly over. Now it is an economic struggle,” said one Sri Lankan respondent, a view that found resonance in all three countries. People frequently expressed frustration about the continuation of economic inequalities. Inequality may indeed be bad for everyone, even at the best of times, but many of these same inequalities were themselves causes of conflict, so the lack of resolution is an obvious potential challenge to stable peace. The economic impacts of conflict, particularly on marginalized and oppressed populations, are significant, and long-lasting. For some situations of conflict and oppression, the case for reparations doesn’t go away, even after the immediate victims are long dead.

Frustration was most pronounced in South African interviews, in which many people stated they had won their political freedom without ever coming close to economic equality. Some felt they were worse off economically than during apartheid. There was a widespread sense of anger and hopelessness for the future.

Notably, for some respondents in Northern Ireland, class emerged as a potential alternative to traditional identity politics, with working-class interviewees expressing a lack of confidence in politicians of all stripes to work for their needs. One pro-Union respondent even praised Sinn Fein’s social policies.

The loss of income, life, livelihood, and property is most immediate in Sri Lanka due to the more recent end to conflict and its high intensity. Many displaced people are yet to be resettled in areas that allow them to continue with traditional livelihoods such as farming or fishing (like the stick-fisherman in the image above). Along with mourning family members, many respondents keenly feel the loss of the ways of life that went along with fishing and agriculture.

In Sri Lanka, while displaced people wait for reconstruction assistance, the government and international investors have wasted no time building luxury developments for the country’s thriving visitors industry. Northern Ireland and South African respondents echo these sentiments: the external face of the post-conflict big city welcomes international visitors with a smile, but the wounds of their peoples—and their economic disenfranchisement—are not healed by tourism.


1) More than 80 percent still belongs to white farmers, and I think that’s where you see the kingpin…. The issue of land redistribution and land reform has not come to its fullest yet…life is still the same as before. Freedom. To be free means nothing if you have nothing to build on. So the economic freedom is still the stumbling block.

—From South Africa


2) Well, as I told you before, I was always a flag waver. Stay British, stay British. But the way things are going now politically, from Britain, we are going to all end up walking down the road for bread and butter, instead of waving the flag.

I mean you can fly a flag but you can’t fry it. 

And the way it is coming now, with the cutbacks and no money, these people are going to communicate together and fight for survival, for food for jobs.

 —From Northern Ireland

 


3) We are selling our country and our resources not for the people of the soil but to foreigners to enjoy. Sri Lanka is like a prostitute land. Any country can come and enjoy and go. Some people are agents for that, especially the government. So they are spoiling the country even after shedding a good amount of blood by both Sinhalese and Tamils. Sri Lanka is, as I feel in the present situation, like a prostitute.

 —From Sri Lanka

 

What is happening here today is our lands have been grabbed. The demography has been changed. And there won’t be any chance to say that this is the traditional homeland of the Tamil people. This is scary.

 —From Sri Lanka

 


4) For the white community, our liberation liberated them as well. It liberated them and they had greater securities and greater economic freedom in the post-apartheid era. The white companies make more profits now and they can grow and extend their resources and so on.

But the problem is that they have not reconciled themselves with our democracy because often they will refer to the past; often they will refer to their rights that they had and so on. They do not want to share this land. They still own more than 90 percent of this country, and the poor people of this country continue to be economically depressed.

—From South Africa

 


5) Q: So do you think there are winners and losers in the peace process?

A: There always are. I think the winner at the minute is Sinn Fein because to me they have made the biggest compromise. Maybe I should not be saying that because they are a different religion from me. But to me they have made the biggest compromise.

Q: So does that make them winners?

A: Yes, in a way. I think the Unionists are putting the obstacles up for no reason at all.

Q: Do you count them as the losers?

A: In a way, yes. Because they are the money people. Sinn Fein was ordinary people like myself. The Unionists all come from money backgrounds. They have not lived the life that we have lived.

Q: Where do you place yourself? Do you think you are a winner or a loser?

A: I think I would put all the working class people in Northern Ireland as losers.

—From Northern Ireland

 


6) So you look at that past from the informal settlement in which you are living, the job you don’t have, the grinding poverty; there is violence, there is inequality. And because this society has become more and more unequal as we have moved away from apartheid, the promise of reconciliation has become dimmer because people are looking at it from where they are.

—From South Africa

 


7) Q: What were your expectations for the peace process?

A: Jobs. Better education, better jobs, better housing. Just things that were totally ignored over the thirty-five-year conflict. Things that people didn’t, not that they didn’t worry about them, just they were not of great importance. The importance was their day-to-day survival. Especially when they came from a highly troubled area.

Whereas now I would like to see my grandchildren going to university. I never went to university. Whereas now that opportunity is there for working class kids to be educated and go to university and make a life. And stay in Northern Ireland. Because all through the conflict as soon as they got out of university it was like a brain drain. They went to work in England; they went to work in Germany, Europe. They didn’t stay in Northern Ireland. So we have to give the kids something that when they get these degrees and they get this education—something worth staying here for.

—From Northern Ireland

 

You need to get the money into these working class areas. That is where most of the trouble comes from. It doesn’t come from the Malone Road and wherever else. There is nobody comes out of there sectarian-minded. It is just all these areas here, dotted around, that the kids don’t know any better most of the time. Not until they get a bit of education. Meet each other face on.

 —From Northern Ireland

 


8) If there were no war, people would have spoken about the economy; they would speak about other things…. If not for the war, we would have looked into other things: we would have been led to study space, astronomy, medicine. Instead of that, we are tied to a war.

—From Sri Lanka

 


9) With the dawn of peace we expected many things, but those have not been realized. During the war the country spent annually Rs. 85 billion for war alone. With the dawn of peace that huge amount of [saved] money has to go to state treasury. Now we expect that money to flow into the villages, to maintain water reservoirs, temples, and other public constructions. But that has not happened. We are concerned about that. What happened was only that the fear of war disappeared from among us. With peace we expected prosperity. But that has not come.

—From Sri Lanka

 

Economically, people are so vulnerable, and there aren’t enough facilities or resources to meet with the needs. In this situation, I don’t think even after fifty years we will be able to stabilise our lost economy because economic loss is so huge and deep. People are stressed and mentally imbalanced and these need to be addressed. Our society was cut off from others and was closed because of the war and now it is out of all those, and sometimes because of their inexperienced nature or lack of exposure to the world, they tend to be misled by others as well.

—From Sri Lanka

 

It is a pleasure to see displaced people being resettled in their own backyards, but, at the same time, it is so sad to see some other section of the people are unable to do so due to several reasons…. If they are given rations for six months, everything will not be over—and what are they going to do in the seventh month? Farmers need money for cultivation and for how long will they be given fertilizer subsidies? Some methods have to be developed and implemented to raise their standard of living. It takes at least five to ten years for the people to get to their normal life pattern.

—From Sri Lanka

 

If we are to live peacefully, we need a roof over our head; we need food and we need to feel that we are secure. We need to have trust and faith in our lives. But right now we don’t have that faith in our lives and we are not very sure about our future.

—From Sri Lanka

 

Had the government helped us a little, we would have made much more progress. We lost all our wealth. If our coconut trees were saved, there would be no need for us to buy coconuts now from here and there. Elephants destroyed them. Now it is difficult to grow them. Besides, water is a problem. There is no way to dig a well that is thirty-five to forty feet deep. We need Rs. 200,000 to dig and complete a well. How can a poor family do that? We have many such difficulties.

—From Sri Lanka

 

The whole country is liberated. Economic development is taking place. Highways are being constructed. The roads are being repaired. Had there been war, this would not have been possible. Because of land mines, the roads are damaged. The roofs of buildings are damaged. Now those are being beautifully reconstructed. Vehicles are running. Ruined paddy fields are being cultivated.

—From Sri Lanka

 

Although we have peace, if the roads and reservoirs are not built or repaired, if the education system is ineffective, if the irrigation system is malfunctioning, then what is the use of such peace? Development must follow peace. The expectation of the people with peace was that they would be able to live royally. It is this non-fulfillment of their aspirations that makes them say that war would have been better.

 —From Sri Lanka