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Sri Lanka – get the facts right and then market


“With the economy moving from a $35bn to a $67bn economy we must be get close to the key global super powers so that we understand the facts and then market to the world the reality. Confrontational communication must be avoided say the Nation Branding experts globally”

The newspapers were highlighting the decision by EU General court from Luxemburg stating that EU has revised the proscription of LTTE and that appeals being limited to points of law within two months of notication. I was confused on this development and checked with key authorities on same.

The FACT – ltte proscription

The fact was that Sri Lanka had nothing to do with it. It was now upto the EU to prove to court that LTTE proscription needs to be continued which in fact will be done within the next two months. The logic being the LTTE front organizations had made submissions to EU court that the automatic extension of the LTTE proscription was being biased and for the period 2009 and 2013 there has been no terrorist activity which justifies the continuation of the proscription. It was purely on this submission that the EU General Court had made a judgment on the revision of the LTTE proscription. Sri Lanka had interpreted this judgement incorrectly.

SL Government Strategy – support EU

The strategy of the government now must be close to the EU officials and provide facts and data for the period 2009-20013 to justify the case for the EU to submit to the General Court that LTTE proscription must continue. In my view we as a country are somewhat distance from engaging in this manner and that is where the private and patriotic civil society needs to support the country.

Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge that Sri Lanka has on the war against terrorism is that the world never believed that LTTE was a terrorist organization. It was perceived globally as freedom fighters fighting for the rights of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. May be after 9/11in New York and the closer to home Mumbai attack on 26/11 and the possible links with ISSI was able to capture the attention of the world to the fact that Asia has a brewing terrorist problem and that global support is required to fight this menace and protect the world from this cancer that is terrorizing the world. Marketing the challenge Apart from the perception issue that the world has on LTTE an area of weakness for Sri Lanka, I strongly feel is that we as a nation has failed to market to the world the atrocities of the LTTE that has killed over 70,000 people in Sri Lanka and wiped away almost $200 billion US dollars out of Sri Lanka’s economy. If I may pick up the most horrifying facts on the twenty four years of life of the LTTE – Killing 120 devotees in the Buddhist sacred city in 1985, 110 people in the bomb Blast in Pettah, 70 Muslims in the Kattankudy mosque, the Central Bank attack killing 86 people and injured 1338 which far exceeds the Mumbai casualties on 26/11 can be named. It will be interesting to analyze the media space that Sri Lanka was able to get in the worlds media to determine if an opportunity had been made to slip by.

A point to be highlighted is that even when the LTTE assassinated one of the greatest sons of India Rajiv Gandhi or the in 2007 a group of diplomats accompanied by a cabinet minister came under fire in Batticaloa by the LTTE we could not garner the global support to stop the collection of funds by the LTTE in countries like Switzerland, France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the U.S for funding this terrorist organization’s activities. Some estimate that the last LTTE P&L has recorded a profit of 200 million dollars.

Does the world know?

Even if the world is unaware, if we take a look at the cost of the war on the Sri Lankan economy it exceeds a $200 billion. On tourism -in 1983 Sri Lanka enjoyed 337,530 visitor arrivals whilst a country like Cambodia had around 200,000 tourists at that time. Today Cambodia has over a 2 million tourist arrivals whilst Sri Lanka is at around 0.5 million with a revenue of 43 billion rupees whilst actually Sri Lanka should have had around 1.8 million tourist by now if not for terrorism and earnings touching a 200 billion rupees. On a GDP contribution basis it would have contributed almost eight percent to the country. Some one could argue that by marketing the ruthless activities of the LTTE would it have hurt the tourism industry but given the marginal growth numbers we can easily determine that collateral damage being very limited. As at today the tourism industry is poised to be a 2 billion dollar industry bringing in 1.5 million tourists not forgetting Shangrilla, ITC, Movenpik and Ozos that has moved into the tourism space as at now.

The impact of FDI’s that Sri Lanka could have attracted is around 3000 billion rupees which stacks up to the cost of the war due to Terrorism. If we hypothetically take the 400 billion rupees that that has been spent on the war in the last 3-4 years and divert it to the investment that can be made on Research and Development (R&D) it will be almost 7% of GDP which will be way able the 4% spend by Industrialized countries like South Korea who have produced power brands like Samsung to the world beating brands like Sony of yesteryear. This gives us an idea of the opportunity cost that Economic Terrorism has done to Sri Lanka. May be with consistent policy we can attract the top dollar investments into Sri Lanka but I do accept it is a challenge given the political economy at play in Sri Lanka. Which is where a strong chamber and private sector comes to play in a country that is sadly lacking in Sri Lanka.

6 Ceasefires – case study

If we examines the number of times the Sri Lankan government tried to engage the LTTE it must be clearly shared with the world which we have failed. If I may take you back the 1st ceasefire was the famous `Thimphu talks’ where LTTE came in solidarity with 5 Tamil Groups – the TULF, PLOTE, EROS, EPRLF and TELO. It ended with LTTE unilaterally walking out but during this time LTTE strengthen themselves and secured total control on the Jaffna peninsula which was called `Operation Liberation’. The 2nd ceasefire was championed by Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali from the 11th to the 17th April 1987, for the Sinhala/Tamil New Year. The LTTE reciprocated by ambushing three buses at Kithuluttuwa in the Polonnaruwa district, separating the Sinhalese passengers from the others and murdering every one of them and in total 127. Sri Lanka never saw a Condoleezza Rice or for that any global leader wanting to stop the funding operations globally. The 3rd ceasefire came into effect with the so called Indo Lanka Accord. The LTTE, which pretended to surrender arms [while surrendering only their defective and unusable arms] used the confinement of the Sri Lankan troops to barracks in terms of that ceasefire to engage in an anti Sinhalese/Muslim pogrom by murdering about 200 Sinhalese and Muslim civilians along the Eastern seaboard between the 1st and 7th October 1987. Once again the world just watched.

The 4th ceasefire was orchestrated by the then President Premadasa from the 1st June 1989 and `Peace Talks’ commenced. The LTTE once again used that ceasefire to strengthen themselves and then abrogated the ceasefire by attacking all police stations in the east on the 11th June 1990 and murdering about 678 unarmed police officers who had laid down arms and surrendered to them. The 5th ceasefire came into effect under the leadership of President Kumaratunga in January 1995 that once again resulted in the LTTE sinking two naval gun-boats anchored at Trincomalee, murdering 12 sailors and thereafter murdered 264 members of the security forces and 57 civilians in 27 separate attacks over the next 39 days. Subsequently the LTTE with surface to air missiles brought down two Avro aircraft on the 28th and 29th April 1994 murdering 99 persons including two journalists which one again the world watched with the Sri Lankan Economy reeling. The 6th and last ceasefire that Sri Lanka saw was in 2002 under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that once again the LTTE violated that ceasefire murdering Sri Lanka security force personnel, informants and political opponents and led to the act that LTTE will never forget – shutting off water at the Mavil Aru anicut in August 2006 led to final battle that saw the end to the ground attack of the LTTE.

Military Strategy – Part of Peace

We must create awareness that in any Peace Process of a country the Military Strategy becomes an integral part of it. Language Policy, Governance structure, Economic Development, Human rights and democracy, IDP Resettlement and the Military Strategy must go hand in hand so that with the development in each of these areas can restore normalcy in a country whilst some elements wean out and others take center stage. Like for instance Economic development takes over the driving seat over military strategy. If this does not happen we can be found fault with which is what we as a country needs to understand.

Marketing is king

In conclusion we see that marketing is a key element when a country is at war with a terrorist organization specially an organization such as the LTTE which has its tentacles across the world. Hence what is to get the facts right and agree on the partners that can we worked with like the EU in the above instance and arrive at a conclusion. The head on collision must be avoided at any cost is my view which is the most important attributes of Nation Branding.

Dr. Rohantha Athukorla is a ‘Double award winner’ in Marketing by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and was the youngest Chairman to serve Sri Lanka Export Development Board and continues to serve the board for the last six years. He is Merit Award winner in the United Nations system of five years and currently heads an US based Invest giant as the Country Director-Asia Pacific. He is an alumni of Harvard University (Boston).


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