Former President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga has urged the Nigerian government to maximize all peaceful effort in addressing the Boko Haram insurgency. She gave this advice in an interview with AYO OKULAJA in Lagos, where she discouraged the use of military onslaught against the fundamentalist on the back drop of the massive civilian casualty suffered in the Sri Lankan onslaught against the Tamil Tigers rebels. She also touched a number of global issues, such as growing inequality, minority demands and inclusive policy.
Your successor, President Rajapaska, completely quelled the Tamil Tigers insurgency with a military onslaught as against your peace initiative with the rebels. How will you advise the Nigerian government to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency; dialogue or an all-out military onslaught?
The Mahinda Rajapaksa’s onslaught against the Tamil tigers is a very big issue in the international community now and the United Nations Human Right Commission (UNHRC) is still investigating it but I still believe, it could have taken a bit longer; we could have ended the war in a different war.
The Tamil people have been discriminated against for a long time and they are demanding for their rights and my government was the first to agree to their demands to give their rights, comprehensive right, a federal state and no separate country. But Rajapaska never believed in minority rights. He was the only minister in my cabinet that was against negotiations, he just wanted to go and kill them.
And now the whole world is shouting about the onslaught, the Tamil diaspora are regrouping and condemning the attack and in a few years, there can be another rebel group if the government goes on with its strategy. There was lot of things they violated in the final onslaught such as civilian human rights because the Tigers surrounded themselves by civilians. The government also used fighter jets to shoot thousands of civilians the government had instructed to gather somewhere. Those killings could have been avoided if the government had a more humanitarian approach. There was no need to kill civilians and this is what is going round and everyone is angry. If only the Tamil Tigers were destroyed no one who have being bothered because they were very vicious. They produced the largest number of suicide bombers in the world before Al-Qaeda took over.
What do you think is the best solution to insurgency?
People don’t become very violent just like that. There are very deep-rooted causes, so you have to find these causes of the conflict and then resolve those causes but when they keep on killing like Boko Haram or Tamil Tigers, then you have to find those individuals and do whatever you can with them. But the agitation will not stop until you find the root causes and like in Nigerian and Sri Lanka, the people recruited by Boko Haram are the poor and those that have suffered discrimination, so you have to first resolve the problem of poverty, bring them in, you have to include them by building an inclusive policy.
What is your take on issues of reserved seats versus the Inclusive policy?
Groups of people, whether they are women, religion or tribes who have been discriminated against for centuries, people who have been trampled upon and cannot rise up to those that have been on top, those who do not have rights and those that have disadvantaged, should be given specialty till they become equal. There should be reserved seats for tribes and communities that have suffered from various types of discrimination. Such as it is done in India for people from lower caste, where it has been very successful.
What happens when the ruling class or those favoured by the status quo fight back in this demand to share power of inclusive policy?
Such groups will or may resist, sometimes, violently. The government must have extensive awareness campaign to tell the majority people also that, unless you share the benefits of development with everyone, there is going to be so much violence and trouble and you are not going to enjoy your wealth. For example in Sri Lanka, we went around the country holding seminars and workshop on these kinds of issues.
In your lecture in Lagos, you lamented the growing rate of inequality in the world noting the poor are even getting poorer in today’s world. Do you think the capitalist system has failed the 21st century?
I admitted that some developing countries are making giant economic strides and some poor people have been moved out of economic poverty but the poor that are getting poorer are mostly people who belong to the minority community. So in countries where this happens, there is discrimination. I don’t think capitalism has failed because it is the economic system adopted all over the world since socialism failed. I was also a socialist but when I came into power, I said I was bringing capitalism with a human face. What is now wrong with today’s capitalist is that they look after only the rich and forget the poor. But if they take a little from the rich via taxation and distribute to the poor, coupled with infrastructural development and provision of education and health care to the poor, then I don’t think capitalism is bad. But capitalism has to be properly managed, governments that are managing capitalist economies have to be not corrupt, or at least there should be minimal corruption and there will be enough to go round.
Considering the growing demands of minorities and battle of inequality, should the world do away with system of dynasty which you have benefited from?
I don’t agree with family dynasty, that is why I have not brought my children into politics. My father and mother were into politics but it is not that we were the only choice. We were elected. My mother refused to come into politics after my father was assassinated. The party wanted her to come, so it was not like we were building ourselves up and wanted to remain in power. My mother later became very popular and I think she did a very good job and after her, the party needed another leader. I said I didn’t want to do politics and I was forced into it after about three years of refusing and then I said dynasty ends with me. I have thought my children that they don’t have to come into politics. I think dynastical politics is not good. It allows the family to grab everything for themselves and corruption is worse in such a system. At the moment, the current President of Sri Lanka has become very corrupt as about 2,000 members of his family are in government positions and his four brothers in the cabinet as well as their sons are in the parliament. Such a system has more disadvantages than advantages because those in power will begin to think of it as a family heirloom and they become corrupt. It is not only the family members that have experience. There are many others who have experience to govern.
Talking about assassinations and suicide bombs how was it for you to have survived a suicide bomb attack?
It was great. I don’t know how I survived but it was almost miraculous. I lost one side of my eye, I am blind in the left eye and I still have steel in my brain. 26 people died in that attack including my driver who has being with me for about 25years.
Mrs Kumaratunga was in Lagos for the annual Osigwe Anyiam Osigwe lecture series where she delivered the keynote speech on Synthesis For Nationhood: Ethnic policy and National Integration From Indigenes to Citizens.