Bradley J. Murg, Director of Research
I was in Anlong Veng last week as part of a group examining the question of reconciliation in Cambodia. While I was well aware of the history of the region, with estimates of 80% of the population comprised of former Khmer Rouge I was unaware of the estimate that 40% or so of residents continue to exist in some variant of the KR mode of societal organization. A truly remarkably figure which deeply undermines any claim that reconciliation efforts in Cambodia can be labeled in any way “a success.” From the perspective of political economy, the realities of contemporary Anlong Veng make perfect sense – Douglass North’s famous statement about the “stickiness” of institutions, both formal and informal.
At the same time, however, it raised the question of the current state of societal trust in Cambodia and the impacts thereof as to economic development. Trust, as has been well demonstrated in the broader economics literature, is at the center of economic growth. Absent strong levels of societal trust, market exchange becomes exceedingly difficult – raising transaction costs and resulting in particularly deep challenges for economies such as Cambodia that are seeking a greater role in global supply chains.
Digging around, I came across an interesting bit of work from 2013 that examined the question of societal trust and social capital (Robert Putnam’s famous term) from a comparative perspective, examining both Cambodia and Timor-Leste with the results of the survey work being quite negative for Cambodia. As we further examine the development of Cambodia there are a few questions that require much more research. First, the reconciliation process – including the Extraordinary Chambers – appear to have had little to no positive effect as regards societal reconciliation. Second, absent any serious, fresh efforts at reconciliation, how does Cambodia resolve the challenge of economic development in a state with low levels of trust?
This issue has bedeviled other economies and raises the question as to whether reconciliation should increasingly viewed as precursor to certain development projects and in the absence of successful reconciliation programs and improvements in societal trust, whether certain aid programs should be attempted at all – the classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
So, where does Cambodia go from here? The Rwanda model is clearly not feasible. And other impediments would seem to preclude traditional mechanisms of reconciliation. As an organization committed to a local, “bottom up” approach – we are curious as to out readers’ view. What is the future of reconciliation in Cambodia? What measures are needed to increase to trust in order to make greater economic gains? Whither trust and social capital in Cambodia?
Some food for thought to start your week.