Feature image taken by Kenji Tan.
Due to the ongoing pandemic situation this summer, I was not able to go to the UK to participate in the Immerse summer program at Cambridge University. Despite this, I was determined to get some extracurricular education over the summer to explore my academic interests. Edx.org provided me with the perfect opportunity for this as a website offering free online courses led by major universities from around the world. With the free time I had during the summer, I decided to plan a productive way to spend this time with a course I was interested in over a three-week period. I decided to choose Oxfordx’s “From Poverty to Prosperity – Understanding Economic Development” as the course I would enroll in because its principles deeply resonated in me. The purpose of this course was to educate those who couldn’t go to Oxford for whatever reason, as with any other course, but this one, in particular, focused on development for less economically developed nations which added to the significance of global outreach for such a course to be offered online. After living in five different countries: Malaysia, Japan, Russia, China, and Sri Lanka, I’ve come to experience varying levels of development across a broad range of geography. While Sri Lanka still struggles relatively with economic development, Japan cruises along having developed its economy and infrastructure decades ago, while China is growing rapidly. I want to contribute in some way to the development of the world as someone who comes from Malaysia, a country once considered as an LEDC which grew to become a middle-high income country and is on its way to prosperity. When I witnessed the poverty and lack of development in places like Sri Lanka, I realized just how much a nation’s economic power can have an impact on so many millions of lives.
Although my passion and motivation in promoting prosperity in LEDCs have always been prevalent in my life, I understood that I was responsible for educating myself properly in this matter. Identifying the causes of poverty and the indicators that contribute towards a prosperous nation took long hard hours of study during this course. Featuring lectures, notes, and additional reading material, my dedication pulled through and enabled me to study this topic thoroughly. I even began reading Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, recommended by Sir Phil Collier, the lecturer, to get a better comprehension of the wider context of flaws in the political economy among nations that have fallen behind economically.
The course itself included various helpful educational activities such as quizzes, as shown above, various forum discussions, and finally essays. This course was divided into six different modules, each covering a series of lectures that go in-depth into the topics. All of these lectures were extremely well made and informative. They undoubtedly contributed to the level of global engagement I would pursue to have in my future career in international economic development. Examples of how the political economy functions across the world paint a colorful picture of human society and explains why people interact the way they do and their impacts on the development of civilizations. I have learned so much from this course and it has taught me to think broader about the issues around the globe and how to fix those problems or at least attempt to through deep analyzations from multiple facets of society.
The following are the essays I wrote at the end of this assignment based on three questions:
1. Is the country a centralized and/or inclusive state? Describe the country’s context to justify your answer. Use the concepts to explain how the country has progressed to where it is today (e.g. six steps to a centralized state, pressure through protests for inclusivity…etc). [200-300 words]
Sri Lanka has a long history with colonial rule dating from the beginning of the 16th century and ending in 1948 when the British left. Sri Lanka’s independence came with a constitution and political structure based on the British model; therefore, through this setup, Sri Lanka was in a good position to become a centralized state. The government had a monopoly over violence with its army, a political bureaucracy, investments in infrastructure, and foreign trade exporting goods such as tea, rubber, and coconuts. However, economic crisis soon befell the nation due to several factors including the fall of tea and rubber prices, an increasing population consuming freely imported foreign goods, and a schooling system leading to the educated youth unable to find employment due to a strong academic bias. Although the government’s policies were inherently inclusive in nature and were implemented in the hopes of spurring economic growth, these steps failed to fulfill their roles.
Politically, instability rose from divisions between ethnoreligious lines largely between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority resulting in the formation of the LTTE Tamil militant insurgency group, and a civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2009. During this 26 year period, the North and East were controlled by the LTTE while the West and South of Sri Lanka were under the Sinhalese government’s control. This was a major setback for the nation as they regressed into a divided state with no monopoly over violence; as such, they were not a centralized state for a long time. After the government put an end to the insurgency in 2009, Sri Lanka became centralized again and although corruption is still an issue, the elite has largely decided to lead inclusively through promoting democracy and economic growth for all and ultimately rejecting any form of autocracy.
2. Are power and identity aligned or misaligned in the country? Describe the country’s context to justify your answer. Explain how this alignment/misalignment impacts the country’s development. [200-300 words]
For a long time after Sri Lanka gained independence, there had been a misalignment of identity and power which cumulated in the 26-year civil war. The power over the entire country was held by the government dominated by the Sinhalese ethnic majority population, effectively being at the national level. However, identities varied across the nation among the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic populations which resulted in a sub-national identity for the people. These tensions were amplified during the civil war and almost resulted in a partition allowing governing power and constituency identity to be aligned through an autonomous Tamil province offered in 1987. Although this would have resulted in a similar method of governance to Canada, with both English and French ethnic groups protected, the implementation of this scheme was rejected by the LTTE which led to further conflict. This resulted in decades worth of economic development potential lost as a result of having to deal with the civil war. The effects on economic development can be seen even today as the rural North, home to the Tamil population, is severely lacking in infrastructure compared to the South and Western regions where the Sinhalese population resides.
Today, Sri Lanka has largely overcome the struggles of having opposing identities between the Tamil and Sinhalese populations, and businesses are able to operate nationwide. Even so, there is still a danger in reopening old wounds like how the recently elected president Gotabaya Rajapaksa played along ethnoreligious lines to win votes in the wake of the 2019 Easter bombings. Many progressive Sri Lankans do realize, however, that the cost of misaligning the identities to something less than the national spirit would only continue to impede their opportunities for economic growth and would lead to results no better than the decades-long civil war.
3. Does the capital city of the country have high connectivity? Describe the country’s dominant transport technology and building technology to justify your answer. Explain how the level of connectivity impacts the size and location of firms in the capital city. [200-300 words]
Officially, the nation’s administrative and legislative capital is in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte but the better-known city is Colombo, the commercial capital. Facing an increasingly prevalent issue of congestion and traffic in the city center due to how the central districts are built right by the shoreline and are unable to expand, the administrative capital was moved further inland in an attempt to relieve congestion by relocating government institutions.
With only one major highway leading into the city, and the vast majority of the workforce using cars, it has become a staple to have to deal with traffic. Although buses exist, they are highly unreliable due to the busing culture of waiting unusually long for passengers to board or dangerously racing against other buses to get more passengers. However, the government has been working on infrastructure by building highways and upgrading roads with help from the Chinese government leading to a much higher quality of transportation in parts of the city.
Despite the seemingly dense environment of Colombo, the combined population of the two capitals is merely 800,000, fewer than many modern capital cities. This is largely due to the lack of high-rise buildings of residence as the vast majority of the urban population lives in houses.
As the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo houses all the major firms that have a business in the country. These are largely the flagship domestic companies that run the private sector such as the John Keells Holdings conglomerate, Sri Lanka Telecom, and Commercial Bank of Ceylon. Though the business district area is small and dense, there is no doubt that firms are growing at an increasing rate in the capital. Over recent years, a number of malls have been opening around the city center to meet consumer demands as connectivity increases.