Updated: Jul 13, 2022
Whilst most of us were focussed on the shenanigans on Downing Street, the political
future of another leader was also quickly unravelling. Gotobaya Rajapaksa assumed the presidency of Sri Lanka in 2019, replacing
Maithripala Sirisena who had promised to serve only one term. Prior to 2015 he had been a key part of his brother, Mahinda's regime and was responsible for the brutal offensive against the Tamil Tigers that ended the country's civil war and cost the lives of perhaps 100,000 civilians. Like the other members of the Rajapaksa family, his financial dealings remain mired in allegations of corruption and those who seek to uncover the truth end up assassinated or disappeared.
Despite all this, including his involvement in serious war crimes, Gotobaya was elected to the presidency and immediately set about re-building the kleptocracy begun under his older brother. Even by the nepotistic standards of Sri Lankan politics, the Rajapaksas have taken it to a whole new level, resulting in the bankruptcy of the nation's finances and the increasing interference of the Chinese government in the island's internal affairs.
The announcement of Gotobaya's intention to step aside, though welcome, leaves this beautiful nation penniless, hungry and vulnerable. Why should the actions of an inept regime thousands of miles away bother us when there are plenty of problems closer to home? Part of the answer lies in the historical relationship with Britain as the last colonial power. When Britain took over control of Ceylon in the late 18th century, the island has already experience well over a century of European colonisation. Very quickly the British instituted their well-worn policy of 'divide and rule', exploiting and deepening divisions between Sinhala and Tamil populations. To say that Britain's colonial policies continue to effect the Sri Lankan population would be an understatement, meaning that the UK still has a moral duty to help to put right some of the damage it caused.
Likewise the US carries it's own responsibility to act. For whilst Gotobaya was ordering death squads to disappear journalists and opponents or planning the bombing of hospitals and defenceless civilians, he was also the proud bearer of an American passport. Every nation, the US no less than any others, is responsible for holding its own citizens accountable for their behaviour, wherever it is perpetrated.
Even if the moral arguments don't convince, self-interest demands action. Sri Lanka is a small country but it sits in a critically strategic place in some of the world's most important shipping routes. If a major superpower, such as China, were able to locate strategic assets, including warships, in and around Colombo port, the influence it could exert would be enormous. Without support from NATO and other allies, a crisis-ridden Sri Lanka will have little power to resist the encroachments of the increasingly authoritarian Xi regime.
Boris Johnson's antics, and the race to replace him, have absorbed far too much of our time and attention and distracted us from the real crises going on around the world. We cannot allow this to continue. Sri Lanka needs our help and it needs it now!