Two years after Aung San Su Kyi became Prime Minister of Myanmar, one of the provinces in her country, Rakhane State, is experiencing what the world has characterized as ethnic cleansing, through mass murder and displacement of the Muslim Community by the Military. Su Kyi is nowhere to be found. She has suddenly not shown her 1988 appetite to stand up to the military Injustice, not even to speak out against these mass murders, and has invited heavy criticism, even a recall of some of the humanitarian awards she has collected over the years.
Something is odd however. Su kyi’s history is of a person who needs no lessons on human rights, justice, morality and leadership. She does not need anyone to tell her to put her life on the line for others; She did that all on her own, barely out of her teens. So what is happening here. What are we missing? Who are the Rohingya Muslims and why are they being targeted. Better yet, who is Aung Sun Su Kyi
Aung San Su Kyi became an heir to a weighty legacy, an incomplete struggle passed on to her by her father, Aung San, for the complete liberation of Burma, now Myanmar. I have always seen Su Kyi in the same vein as our own African struggle heroes, a Ken Wiwa of Nigeria (Son of Nigerias Struggle Icon, Ken Saro Wiwa) or Fort Calata (son of ANC SG James Calata), leaders who unfortunately found themselves unable to escape the fate of their parents, and went on, to wage the same struggle and others to pay the ultimate price.. Ang San Su Kyi’s father, Ang San, died 6 months before his country’s liberation. It would be three decades later before the daughter stood up to the military Junta as a student in 1988 and rekindle the spirit of her father and her people.
Standing up to the military junta did not come without a price and Su Kyi would spend the next 20 years of her life under House arrest. She did not stop however. she fought some more, through books, petitions, phone calls, anything she could use to advance the cause of people.
In 2011, she was freed from house arrest and went on to win an overwhelming majority at the polls (after holding a few offices) and become the Prime Minister of her nation on the ticket of democracy and rule of law in 2016. With this kind of history, why is Aung San Su Kyi seemingly unmoved by the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Rhakane State.
Rohingya Muslims are said to be ‘descendants of Arab, Turkish or Mongol traders, who migrated to the Rakhane State around the 15th century after that combination of wars and trade of those times’. Although Myanmar is a Buddhist country, the new Immigrant Muslims were embraced and some even rose to be advisers to some Buddhist leaders as years went by.
So where did it all go wrong. The problems began in the 1800s when the British took over Myanmar as a colony. It is said that the first thing the British did was to introduce, as they have done everywhere else in the world, a divide and rule policy, where they favored the minority Muslims over and against the majority Buddhist Myanmar citizens. Then they opened the flood gates to more Muslims to come into Myanmar, no doubt to increase their hold on to the new colony using the Muslim numbers.
This is exactly what the British did in South Africa, where they elevated the minorities (coloreds, Indians) over the majority Africans to create hostilities between these black groupings, vestiges we still feel to this day.
Much later, in 1947, the British put the last nail in the divisive coffin by enshrining citizenship and voting rights to the minority Muslims, who were now almost 30% of the population, threatening to turn a Buddhist nation into a Muslim nation. At the same time Rakhane state was 80% poor, most likely the majority citizen were the poor ones. Deep resentment was inevitable.
Aung San, father of Su Kyi appears at this stage to fight the British for the liberation of his country from the colonizer. He also formed the communist party of Burma. After fighting valiantly, he is killed suspiciously by his political rivals, who became military dictators after liberation from the British. Naturally, Ang San’s family left the country for their own safety and Su Kyi lived most of her life in exile.
The Military Junta was in charge and they wanted to reverse all the work of the colonizer. They repudiated the citizenship of the Rohingya Muslims, rendering them stateless. The Junta survived until 2011 and Su Kyi, who was house arrested at this time, rose from prisoner to Prime Minister through her democratic party.
Now its important to note that Aung San, fought the British for what they were colonizing his country, and for attempting to upend a Buddhist nation into a Muslim country. Su Kyi, as all citizens of Burma/Myanmar would have hated this assault on their country and this British infiltration of her Buddhist country by Muslims.
Su Kyi hated the military Junta for subjecting her country into military dictatorship but this does not mean she accepted what the British did in Rakhane state. It would be a big mistake to confuse Su Kyi’s fight against the Military Junta as an approval of the evils the British did to her country.
The latest animosity between the military and the Rohingya Muslims is said to be the result of ‘the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) – which staged a series of deadly attacks on Burmese military forces’. Naturally the military went back with a historic vengeance. Whoever started the fights is anyone’s truth, but the problem is clearly historic, part of an unresolved past.
Let us be clear then. The current massacre faced by the Rohingya Muslims is British made and the British must take full responsibility for it. The idea that the British went around and destroyed countries with their colonial crusades and are today giving and taking moral awards to people who are living with their mess is highly offensive and provocative in the extreme.
It is curious what South Africa’s move is going to be in relation to Myanmar, given our first choice of abstaining the UN vote against Ang San Su Kyi’s Military in Myanmar.
Yonela Diko is the ANC Western Cape Spokesperson.