Building a federal democracy from the ground up

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The Burma military routinely targets civilians in Karenni State, as they did here in Ou Khu Ri village in 2022. Defiant, members of diverse communities across the state are building the governance structures of a future free federal democracy. Credit: Karenni counterpart

Amidst the chaos of conflict in Burma, people like Khu Lay are finding hope in structures many in other countries take for granted: regional governments.

“I believe that if there are strong [Indigenous] states, the union will be strong,” says Khu Lay*.  

Since the military’s attempted coup in 2021, and throughout the ensuing war it has waged on the people of Burma, much work has been done at the national level toward this union. But critical to a successful future federal democracy are its foundational blocks: local Indigenous governance structures. And these are becoming stronger.

Each region, or state, has its own governance body — a de facto Indigenous-aligned regional government that provides services to its population. 

In Karenni State, where Khu Lay is from, the Indigenous government collaborated with local political parties, civil society and the civil disobedience movement to form the Karenni State Consultative Council. The council led the development of a new policy outlining the governance, legal and administration systems of Karenni State. But beyond laying out how the state will run, this policy represents a common vision of a future federal democracy they are all struggling toward.   

“We have agreed to the same political goal,” says Khu Lay. He is a council member. “So, it’s easier for us to cooperate.”

For a year while drafting the policy, council members held consultations with people from all walks of life in the state. Inter Pares and our counterparts supported some of these, including sessions with women’s and youth networks.

In early 2023, the council formally adopted the policy. It is a massive collaboration between many Indigenous Karenni groups: civil society, women’s groups, health workers, teachers, bureaucrats and elected politicians.

“We need unity, legitimacy and to address root causes [of conflict],” says Khu Lay. 

This policy will help with all three. And Inter Pares is proud to support steps along the way toward a federal democracy built atop a foundation of Indigenous self-determination.  


*Name changed for his security 

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“We need unity, legitimacy and to address root causes [of conflict],” says Khu Lay.

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