Myanmar’s Top-Down Transition: Challenges for Civil Society

Brenner, David and Schulman, Sarah. 2019. Myanmar’s Top-Down Transition: Challenges for Civil Society. IDS Bulletin, 50(3), pp. 17-36. ISSN 0265-5012 [Article]

Brenner and Schulman-2019-Top-Down Transition.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (664kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

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.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


civil society, democratisation, civil–military relations, ethnic conflict, aid, Myanmar, transition, development, civil war, peace‐building

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



27 September 2019Published
11 April 2019Accepted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2019 09:20

Last Modified:

12 Jun 2021 01:51

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)