The study seeks to examine leadership modalities amongst Kachin communities, taking into consideration the perspectives of youth and older persons, as well as potential impacts upon peace and conflict. Whilst conducted at a time of ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), almost 5 years after hostilities were reignited following the collapse of the 17 year old ceasefire agreement (1994-2011), the study comes at an important time in Myanmar’s democratic transition. Indeed, field research was carried out 2 months after the first democratically elected government for more than 50 years had taken office, and just a few months after the original schedulingof nationwide ward and village tract administrator (WA/VTA) elections.
A reconfiguration of local governance structures introduced by the previous government has resulted in Ward and Village Tract Administrators (WA/VTAs) now functioning as the main interface between citizens and the State. As such, their election represents a crucial component of Myanmar’s democratic transition. The elections are made all the more significant by the fact that, in recent years, the responsibilities of WA/VTAs have been increased, such that the position is now also concerned with security, law and order, land management and local development. Thus, while the research itself is framed around examining leadership modalities in general and did not explicitly set out to survey public opinion on the WA/VTA elections, understanding local people’s experiences and views on the latter nonetheless constitutes a central theme of the study.
Primary data collection was conducted in Myitkyina, Waimaw and Momauk Townships during May/June 2016 by the Research and Development Department (RDD) of the Naushawng Education Network (NSEN), an independent and non-profit educational organization founded by Kachin scholars committed to working towards strengthening democratic transition and community resilience in northern Myanmar. An external consultant was commissioned by NSEN in February 2016, primarily to help develop the study design, provide training to the RDD on the research methodology and tools, and later provide analysis of data together with a final report based on the findings and a review of relevant literature.
The main objectives of the research are to:
- Find out how people choose, select or elect their leader in Kachin society;
- Find out the different views of young and old on these leadership modalities;
- Find out if this has a current impact on peace and conflict in the region and in Kachin society.
It should however be noted that a broader objective of the NSEN Research and Development Department (RDD) during 2016 is to develop a complete ‘social action research design to be used by local researchers for data analysis and writing.’ With this in mind, a significant focus has been placed upon supporting the development of research capacities within the RDD in order for it to be able to undertake primary research projects more systematically in the future. In practice, this means greater emphasis being placed on the research methodology, process and learning, rather than actual research findings.