Myanmar’s top-down transition: Challenges for civil society

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article historicises the nature of political transition in Myanmar to better appreciate the challenges faced by civil society. After Myanmar’s political reforms in 2011, Western donors rushed into the country in support of what they misunderstood as a remarkable instance of democratisation. In 2019, escalating civil war, ethnic cleansing, and contracting civil liberties urge a rethink. This article argues that viewing transition in Myanmar through the lens of democratisation has always been misleading and problematic. Partial liberalisation was orchestrated by the military to safeguard its own power. Reforms have not only benefited civil society but also enabled the growth of uncivil society, fuelling sectarian violence and bolstering military rule. Operating on the assumption of democratisation, Western donors shifted funds from grass-roots networks to militarised state bureaucracies that seek to co-opt peace-building and development projects for the purposes of ethnocratic state-building and counterinsurgency. Rethinking the nature of transition is pivotal for preventing inadvertently aiding authoritarianism and conflict.


External organisations
  • University of London
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


  • Aid, Civil society, Civil war, Civil–military relations, Democratisation, Development, Ethnic conflict, Myanmar, Peace‑building, Transition
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-36
Number of pages20
JournalIDS Bulletin
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch