A CHOGM traffic map, with RISK pieces.
The Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting ended in Sri Lanka last week. Aside from messing up traffic for a few days, it was a big event that didn’t really have a big impact. The strange and by this point predictable thing was that it became, in the international media at least, about the war, war crimes etc. It’s like the only story Sri Lanka can conceivably be associated with is civil war. It also overshadowed whatever CHOGM was supposed to discuss. As far as I can tell from the Republic Square brief, this meeting accomplished close to nothing.
There are no official costs attached to hosting the conference. Estimates were Rs. 6 billion and the UNP is claiming 14 billion. Either way it’s millions of dollars, a lot of it on cars that people will have used for three days and which now, I suppose, get gifted off to undeserving MPs and lackeys. Anush has a piece on the economic benefits of CHOGM, but the crux there is that they’re largely unknown.
I’d venture that it’s only a three day event with relatively few participants, and Anush seems to confirm that hotel occupancy rates were low. However, the main benefit of something like CHOGM is that the world’s media is focused on Sri Lanka, which turned out to be a bad thing.
The Media Circus
It’s undeniable that a lot of the western media is ignorant or myopically focused on the end of the war in 2009, ignoring everything before and after that point. However, knowing that this issue would come up, the Rajapaksa government seems to have prepared for it not at all. If they cared about international PR they could have announced that they’d implement the LLRC just before, or hold some events in Jaffna, or even just brief their diplomats better. Instead they did basically the opposite.
The government allowed in and then harassed Channel 4 journalists, quite publicly. They stood by as people blocked their train and as the connected BBS attacked the opposition headquarters in Kotte. They also led up to CHOGM by deporting New Zealand Green MPs for holding a presser, Aussie journalists for attending a conference, etc. Basically they created a belligerent image, seemingly by intention.
The vital point is that the government actually doesn’t care about international opinion. Indeed, in a way they seem to miss the old LTTE/diaspora bogeyman and their allies, a hostile western media. Even English-speaking Sri Lankans cheer on Dr. Chris Nonis on CNN for speaking about something fundamentally sad with good diction. The opposition party also says that it also opposes foreign meddling. I mean, who supports it, really? For the government it’s a cheap local win actually, if you look at it just locally.
Internationally, however, it makes us look pretty dumb. Republic Square covers this issue pretty well also. I mean, who would have known we had a Green Party MP here unless we expelled them? As impressed as some Sri Lankans are with Dr. Chris Nonis, is having a civilization for 2,500 years really relevant to the issue of war crimes investigations?
As RSQ puts it:
Creating a siege mentality (“no one likes us, we don’t care”) can be useful in shoring up domestic support, but it is absolutely destructive to international relations, both on a political and a public relations level. The language being used also presents exactly the opposite issue from the one that is intended – all the talk of “propaganda”, of “agent provocateurs”, of small powerful minorities who are really running things comes across as paranoid and more reminiscent of the rhetoric of a paranoid Soviet Union than an open democracy.
If anything, the government has made the country look worse than it actually is while the internationally media has completely missed how bad things actually are. The end result is basically that kids get of school, some MPs get cars, and everybody else gets to do the 2009 time warp again, on the taxpayers dime.