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Accepted Paper:

Donors, data, and ethnic denial: the case of Myanmar’s census  
Niheer Dasandi (University of Birmingham) Jasmine Burnley (University of Birmingham) Laurence Cooley (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides an analysis of aid donors' support for the controversial 2014 Myanmar census. In the context of the unfolding Rohingya crisis, the census was part of the Government's discriminatory policies towards the Rohingya. This paper analyses why donors provided support for the process.

Paper long abstract:

Myanmar’s political reforms in 2011 led to the influx of aid donors and other development actors to the country. In seeking to support largescale socio-economic development initiatives in the country, a crucial challenge these actors faced was the lack of data regarding the country and its population. Bilateral donors and UN agencies – including the UK’s DFID, Australia’s DFAT, and the UNFPA – sought to address this by supporting the Government of Myanmar (GoM) to conduct the country’s first national census since 1983. Early on, concerns were raised about how the politically-sensitive issue of ethnicity would be addressed in the census – given the ongoing ethnic conflicts and the unfolding Rohingya crisis. Despite assurances that respondents would be able to self-identify, when the census was conducted in April 2014, the GoM had included a list of national ethnic groups that excluded identities such as the Rohingya and misclassified other ethnic groups, provoking outrage. Human rights organisations accused donors of complicity in the GoM’s discriminatory policies towards the Rohingya. In this paper, we examine why aid donors chose to fund and support the Myanmar census despite the risks of the GoM using it as part of its process of ethnic cleansing. Drawing on interviews and key reports, we examine a range of possible explanations -- such as geopolitical interests, technocratic and economic bias, and bureaucratic inertia. The paper sheds light on how the census process reinforced the GoM’s discrimination against the Rohingya and why aid donors supported this process.

Panel P04
Data justice and development [Digital Technologies, Data and Development SG]
  Session 4 Friday 28 June, 2024, -