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Prognosis of the South Malaise

                                                Gothom Arya*


        By analogy, the conflict and violence that afflict the southernmost part of our country looks like a chronic disease. To cure it needs a proper diagnosis. I would like to venture a basic diagnosis that, in short, the conflict is an identity conflict exacerbated by negligence and wrongdoings of the central authority. Knowing the nature of our quagmire is one thing, still how to get out of it requires enormous efforts. My argument is that we can pull ourselves up essentially by using the power of ideas and imagination.

          We, the people of the South and also all Thais for that matter, have to enter into a discussion, or better a dialogue, to think and imagine our future. In medical parlance, this is called making a prognosis. In other words, we have to develop together different future scenarios, we have to ‘fight' over which one is the most doable and desirable. In this way, not only we shall transform the ongoing uncivil conflict into non-violent articulation but also by imagining the future and the best scenario we shall be able to make it happen in actual.

          Royal Dutch Shell Company is one of the biggest transnational corporations employing more than 100,000 persons in over 120 countries. To keep a leading edge, it has been using the so-called ‘scenario' to look into the future. With big investments in terms of time as well as human and financial resources, the scenario developed in 1972 allowed the company to forecast the emergence of an oil cartel (OPEC) and the big rise in oil price that would eventually taper out. The 1984 Shell scenario dubbed ‘the Greening of Russia' mentioned the possibility of the demise of the Soviet empire and the subsequent turmoil in Eastern Europe. In 1980s, South Africa was at a crossroad. A team was formed comprising 22 persons drawn from all walks of life with different political inclinations. Several thousands of people were involved in the exercise of imagining the future of the country: how to get out of the apartheid and develop a new political and economic system. The team came out with 4 possible scenarios each having a bird name.

          "Ostrich scenario' described the way de Klerk's government continued to put its ‘head under the sand' by ignoring both internal and international demands to dismantle the apartheid system. As a result, there would be more polarisation, and violent confrontation.

          ‘Lame Duck scenario' envisaged a protracted change under a weak government that tried to please every sectors of the society but ended up with frustration of many and a contracted economy.

          ‘Icarus scenario' was the one fitting most to the demand of the Black's opposition. According to it, a government would come to power with a strong support of the population. Riding high on its popularity, it tried to satisfy the huge demand of the population and engaged in so many mega projects weighing so much on the economy that it finally collapsed.

‘Flamingos scenario' was in fact the constructive one. It described a coalition government as in the ‘Lame Duck scenario'. However, its composition and policy were just ‘right'. Flamingos take off slowly and fly in a flock. So would be the economic policy of slow and steady growth that would benefit from both the participatory approach and the new found political equality. 

The 4 scenarios took a lot of time and hearing to develop. After that they were presented to the political, business and civil society leaders for wide ranging discussions. How much these scenarios have influenced the process of change in South Africa is for the historians to determine. Suffice to say that the ‘Flamingos scenario' was probably in the mind of de Klerk when he made his February 1990 speech announcing the dismantlement of the apartheid system. The ensuing government also followed more or less this scenario.

A scenario could make things happen accordingly if enough people are involved in its formulation and discussion. This is what we may call the power of prognosis that guides the future with the will of the present.

Although the situation in South Africa two decades ago was quite different from the situation in the deep South of Thailand, we still also need the development of future scenarios or prognosis for the latter. What we need is a good team, financial resource and enough time. That may not be difficult to find. What is more difficult is the lack of understanding that a prognosis is needed. Not the one imposed by any party to the conflict but the one that parties are willing to participate in its formulation and discussion. In a polarized situation, parties in conflict tend to seek win-lose solution and do not believe a win-win solution in which they could imagine a doable and desirable future without going through bloodshed. So the present challenge is to convince enough people in power position across the divide that a participatory prognosis is needed. This alone is not going to be an easy task. Still, we can create the will starting by describing the power of prognosis in the cure of our malaise.

Who will make the ball rolling: academics, civil society, bureaucrats or simply a visionary company like Shell. In fact we need the participation of all and a task force similar to the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) is needed. NRC itself does not have much time left as a final report is due in few months but at least it could initiate the discussion on the need of a prognosis.  



        *Director, Mahidol University Research Center for Peace Building


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