Nation-building throughout Southeast Asia has been undertaken in contexts where minority groups, living on the margins of society, are being forced into recent state constructions, and have had their cultures eroded as a result. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for education have provided international benchmarks for literacy. These have been adopted by the Cambodian state, and a number of donors and NGOs have funded and enacted policies with the explicit aim of improving the language skills of Cambodia's highland communities. However, these are being implemented in communities that do not speak Khmer (the Cambodian national language), and do not have indigenous systems of writing. Drawing on fieldwork in Cambodia, this paper argues that the impact of the MDGs has been to depoliticize an inherently contested terrain, and to ironically silence communities on fundamental issues by teaching them to read, write and speak the national language. This has limited their capacity to perform sovereignty by restricting the very voice they are entitled to speak.
- indigenous rights
- millennium development goals