Sri Lanka saw the first of three waves of killings of their best and brightest young people in the south in 1971 when the frustrated but educated youth expressed their displeasure at the corrupt rulers. But they chose arms against the rulers instead of the votes. They repeated that twice more in the late Seventies and again in the early Nineties. Then there was the bloody civil war in the north that killed the best and the brightest young people in the north and scores of soldiers and innocent civilians from all ethnic groups. The total number of valuable human lives lost in those waves is insurmountable. The best estimate may be over hundreds of thousands. In addition, due to these conflicts, and the economic and other political disasters that followed, many Sri Lankans left the country including the educated and the highly skilled. I know it well because I am one of them.
So, over the last 75 years since independence, Sri Lanka lost its most valuable asset, the young and educated human capital. The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large in comparison to the country’s 21 million population. Three million Sri Lankans are living overseas, with Western Europe, the Arab Gulf States, and North America being major population hubs. Saudi Arabia has a large population, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, India, France, Qatar, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, and Lebanon. Due mainly to Sri Lanka’s colonial ties to Britain, Sri Lankan community in Europe existed for several decades. Prior to the outbreak of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the 1980s, many well-educated, upper-class Sri Lankans settled in the UK. In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a surge in Sri Lankan immigration, particularly amongst the oppressed Tamil population, who fled to the West. The US has over 61,000 people of Sri Lankan origin.
As a result, the less educated and highly corrupted who were left behind occupied the successive governments. Major political influencers in Sri Lanka, the saffron-clad priests, some of whom are equally or more corrupted than the corrupt rulers, validated the corrupt rulers for their own selfish gains and self-interests. The lay followers of the saffron-clad blindly and faithfully followed their endorsements during successive elections. Rulers gave empty promises in sacred places in front of the saffron clads. Promises they never kept or even intended to keep. Together, they pitted one race, and one religion, against the others. Then the country hit economic rock bottom.
One would think that the Sri Lankans by now have finally learned how this game is played by the local rulers who are backed by the global superpowers. After several attempts in postponing the local government elections by president Ranil Wickremasinghe, in March of 2023, the supreme court ordered him to hold the elections and now the elections are to be held on April 25, 2023.
Within days, the government-friendly media started playing the usual Goebbels or Tucker Carlson-like twisted propaganda by continually talking about the strengthening of the Sri Lankan Rupee, showing the country’s two airports full of tourists, and trumpeting the government’s promise to give free food to the poor. All these came at the expense of a pending large IMF loan of nearly 3 billion USD. Once again, the uninformed voters may fall for these cherry-picked narratives as they have repeatedly since 1948.
But the underlying truth is that there is fatal cancer raging through Sri Lanka. That is the massive corruption that runs top to bottom and the lawlessness in the country. Sri Lanka must pay the outstanding and new loans to various lenders for decades to come. They also must play by the rules of those who come forward to help the country. Whatever the temporary measures the Sri Lankans may support or the temporary relief they may get, those will not prevent the spread of that cancer. It is time that the voters recognized this and opt for excision, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and other drastic measures to remove that cancer once and for all.