My family, ages ago, slowly migrated from around Dikwella to Galle to Panadura to Mount Lavinia and finally to Colombo. Now development is flowing back down, and cities like Matara and Galle are growing rapidly, more with the opening of the new highway. Yet the President remains fixated even further down south, on rural Hamabantota, as is the opposition’s Sajith Premadasa. I don’t get it.
The weird thing is that Mahinda isn’t exactly from Hambantota, he’s from Beliatta, near Tangalle. In the Hamabantota district, but still a good ways from Hambantota town. Hambanatota itself is a mostly Muslim fishing village with rocky beach and a lot of empty land. It is a flat and strange place, dry and sparsely populated. Yet this was the proposed site for a Commonwealth Games and the actual site for an international port and cricket stadium.
To reiterate, there is nothing in Hambantota town. There was one proper place to stay, the Peacock, not much to eat and a guest-house with a nice view and rather languid service. I think Virgina Woolf’s husband left a plaque somewhere as was stationed there.
Compare that to Matara which his a booming and I think beautiful town. The place has beaches but also a lot of car sales, a huge Arpico and increasingly prosperous locals. It’s also connected by highway to Colombo and, incidentally, has consistently lovely architecture. Take also Galle which has a literature festival, an attractive Fort and now also a direct connection to Colombo.
The Hambantota Port actually cuts off the town from the coastal road, you have to detour about 30-45 minutes around. In that sense, it’s actually more connected with Tangalle, Matara and Galle more than anything else. With proper road networks I guess all these things (the proposed airport included) could be 30 minutes away from actually populated areas, but as it is I don’t get it.
Perhaps it is part of a plan for a greater southern megapolis, which would make sense, but still, precious little development attention seems to be going to actually developing cities like Matara or actual natural harbors like Trincomallee. Also, something like the Commonwealth Games would be a game-changer for a city like Jaffna, and actual income growth is happening in the North-Central (Anuradhapura region) more than anywhere else, especially as it supplies a resurgent north and east.
Honestly, the myopic focus on Hambanatota may not be a complete waste in the end, but it doesn’t seem like the most efficient or effective use of funds. I’m not saying that the President’s focus their will fail, on the contrary, I wish it every chance of success. It’s just that an actual national policy would have a better chance of success.