Former president kicks off South Asia Youth Conference 2015
By Shiran Illanperuma
Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga kicked off proceedings at the inauguration of the South Asia Youth Conference 2015, held for the first time in Sri Lanka. Her 20 minute speech emphasised the need for development processes to be inclusive of youth aspiration as a form of equity and conflict prevention.
Referencing Sri Lanka’s conflict ridden history as well as ongoing violence in other parts of the South Asia region, the former President warned: “The needs, aspirations and hopes of the young people if ignored turns into frustration and anger, causing a lot of conflict in various countries. Someone once said, young hopes destroyed transform themselves into guns and bombs and of course violence and terrorism.”
“We see this coming true all around us today. Sri Lanka experienced such a wave in the early 1970s in the south, and later from the 1980s in the north and east. Many countries in South Asia have gone through this and even today are suffering the consequences of the neglect of young people,” she added.
However, Kumaratunga also cautioned that development per se was not the end all solution for resolving or preventing conflict and that more equitable distribution of wealth and power was needed.
Said Kumaratunga, “We have seen developments happening in our countries, but the benefits of that are mainly limited to a select number of people – the elite. The vast majority of people stay outside this process and do not benefit from it. Hence, we have a very small percentage of our population enjoying a vast amount of our wealth and the benefits of development. It is now thought that inclusive development is essential.”
Kumaratunga explained that inclusive development would mean, “Actively including all citizens, whatever community they belong to, in the development process. Consulting with stakeholders in villages and towns, getting their views and actually taking them into account and thereafter involving them in the implementation of the development program so that they get equal benefits of the process.”
Citing the performances of her own government which was in power for 11 years from 1994 to 2005, Kumaratunga said: “We designed and implemented a program called the Samurdhi which trained 30,000 unemployed young people to go into villages and get involved with people. They helped to improve livelihoods and incomes whether it was small agriculture, industry or businesses. They were able to help hundreds of thousands of poor families to exit from poverty. In other words we made them the leaders of the Government’s development programs at the field level.”
Elaborating on the role youth can play in this process she said, “The young people in our countries have an essential role to play in promoting inclusive development. This can be done through civil society organisations, actively making people aware or on the other hand, governments can take the decision to involve young people in the decision making monitoring processes of development.
Highlighting the significance of the South Asia region, Kumaratunga noted that it housed a quarter of the world’s population as well as the most number of impoverished people in the world. With this in mind she emphasised the need for developing infrastructure for education, healthcare and services as a means of ending poverty.
Organised by Blue Ribbon Movement India and in partnership with Atlantic Council, Lanka Youth Organisation and Horizon Campus Malabe, this year’s conference focused on the theme of ‘Peace, Prosperity and Youth of South Asia’.
Pix by Shehan Gunasekera