East Timor is no failed state
What many commentators fail to acknowledge is that despite its current difficulties East Timor has come a long way since gaining independence in 1999. The blueprint for Timor’s achievements is the National Development Plan, a detailed document developed in 2001-2 by the Planning Commission, under the leadership of Mari Alkatiri, through a process of national […]
It has informed subsequent multilateral donor efforts and national policy initiatives, most recently through a detailed "sector investment program" analysis and renewed priority setting, carried out through the Ministry of Planning and Finance. Of course this may be seen by some as evidence of that Marxist curse of "planning"; for which associated coordination of government priorities and matching donor resources has been overseen by that other Marxist agency, the World Bank.
In fact, the Marxist tag seems to arise from either Alkatiri's earlier formative years in exile in Mozambique (that is, unrelated to his actual performance as Prime Minister) or an Australian response to his independent and assertive style in negotiations on behalf of his country over Timor Sea oil and gas reserves (a fairly common response by developed country governments to non-compliant third world states). Reference should be made to an informed recent article by East Timor scholar Helen Hill in The Age.
As an ABC radio journalist said on the weekend, the current turmoil is more difficult to understand than in 1999, when it was easy to know who were the "bad guys". That is not so easily understood at present, and the Australian political leadership and media should take a cold shower before continuing their demonising of Mari Alkatiri. (Greg Sheridan blatantly states that a failure to remove Alkatiri “is a shocking indictment of Australian impotence… [in] promoting the national interest”.)
What is presently important is to see whether the practice of Ministerial responsibility (witnessed by the removal last week, either voluntarily or otherwise, of the Ministers with responsibility for the police and the military) enables the Fretilin Government to re-focus under Alkatiri's leadership and re-seize the initiative in establishing national order. Contrast this with the myriad (my computer dictionary says, as an adjective, "so many that they cannot be counted") Australian failures in exercising ministerial responsibility, arguably (in the case of AWB) at least as catastrophic in human consequences as current Timorese turmoil.
Finally, to return to an earlier theme of shared responsibility. It must not escape attention that the UN and Australia alike, among many others, failed to read the warning signs properly. Regardless of Timor, many states attaining independence have demonstrated amply that international assistance is required for far longer than a mere four years (generally, apparently, at least a decade). Why has East Timor been regarded as an exception? Especially given that it is rebuilding from nothing rather than, as occurs in most new states, at least a basic infrastructure.
According to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in referring to East Timor in contrast to much longer UN presence in, for example, Cyprus, Bosnia and Kosovo, “the UN pulled out too early from East Timor. Why do we often try to leave other areas after two or three years?”. Annan's at the mercy, of course, of UN member states. Australia and the USA opposed the UN mission extending beyond its third, let alone fourth, year (but have belatedly changed their tune).
Even so, while the Howard Government has been sabre-rattling on Alkatiri, the UN mission and Timorese Government seemed unprepared for the situation that arose on 25 May, despite the warning signs, not the least the outbreak of violence on 27 April
This is not a question of hindsight, but of a collective failure to analyse intelligence. The people will speak one way or the other on Mari Alkatiri's leadership in next year's elections. In the meantime, draw a clearer distinction between regional support and interference, and permit East Timor the technical and development assistance it deserved all along.
As a postscript to my comments in Thursday's Crikey, the second and third days of the women's and children's rally outside the Prime Minister's office were cancelled just prior to Friday's commencement due to well-founded security concerns about roving groups. Improved reach into the various camps had guaranteed a larger turnout. Alternative responses are being planned.