Myanmar’s army and the economy. The road up from Mandalay.
In the sticks, the army’s business activities are all too present
The Economist / April 21st 2012 | LASHIO | from the print edition
AFTER two decades spent punishing Myanmar with economic sanctions, now Western countries cannot seem to ditch them fast enough. Since by-elections on April 1st were won almost entirely by Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy, earlier caution on this issue has been cast aside. Australia and America have lifted travel and financial restrictions on hundreds of members of Myanmar’s establishment. The Americans have also promised to ease sanctions on some business sectors, while allowing in American humanitarian groups. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, recently in Myanmar, says that the European Union should suspend all sanctions, while maintaining an arms embargo.
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While Western diplomats worry whether Myanmar’s reforms are “irreversible” or not, in the ethnic (ie, predominantly non-Burmese) regions around the country’s periphery, it is more a question of whether reform has happened at all.
Most obvious is the dominant role of the army. Lashio, about 200km (125 miles) from Mandalay, is headquarters to the North-Eastern Regional Military Command, with about 30 infantry battalions. …………
On the back of its formal military role, the army has also built up a suffocating economic grip on the region. Across Myanmar, the national army has for years pursued a policy of “living off the land”. Battalions are obliged to become their own farmers and businessmen in order to feed themselves and pay their wages. Signs outside Lashio proudly announce the entrances to the North-Eastern command’s enormous farms. All along the road up to Muse are more of the army’s various forests and plantations. ….. ……… Loosening the army’s grip on local economies is a condition of lessening its political power. It will have somehow to be done if Myanmar is truly to change.
Comment by Jerry Mager
Jerry Mager / 25th April 2012
The Economist: “Yet a sense of the challenges Myanmar faces on the way to becoming a proper market economy governed by the rule of law can be had by venturing outside the two big cities. Beyond Yangon and Mandalay, interests opposing change remain deeply entrenched. While Western diplomats worry whether Myanmar’s reforms are “irreversible” or not, in the ethnic (ie, predominantly non-Burmese) regions around the country’s periphery, it is more a question of whether reform has happened at all.
This paragraph for me sums it all up. There seems to be no one single politically incorrect sentence in this article. “[B]ecoming a proper market economy governed by the rule of law” probably being the most menacing politically correct phrase, because so (unintentionally) misleading it almost amounts to a kind of Newspeak. Did ‘we’ succeed in becoming a proper free market economy? Not to speak about the rule of law.
The Birmese army acts in the same way as does every army in comparable countries under similar circumstances: in Pakistan, in Egypt, in Indonesia and so on, and so on. Even the US army and those of her “allies” do so be it in an indirect manner – living of the lands of others (“in foreign fields”).They operate under the pretext (or should we allow for “delusion”?) of bringing the blessings of Democracy and The Free Market. Notwithstanding the fact that we all now know that democracy has nothing to do with the free market any more. We are experiencing the consequences of that every day.
Why should Western diplomats worry about “whether Myanmar’s reforms are “irreversible” or not” ? Is there anything that proved to be irreversible except the process of aging and the certainty that we mortals are all to die someday? Here the question marks are extremely correct.
Although Frances Fukuyama recanted his belief about the End of History some time ago his book remains an enjoyable read. E.g. the following passage I think rather illustrative to the topics in this article: “Economic modernization required not just the creation of modern social structures like cities and rational bureaucracies, but the ethical victory of the bourgeois way of life over the thymotic life of the aristocrat.” (in Chapter 17: The Rise and Fall of Thymos). Perhaps one should read sir Edmund Leach on Birma as well. Very up to date still. Above all do not miss out on that roaring poem of Rudyard Kiplings and maybe find some consolation in envisaging that spectacle of ” … the dawn coming up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay. On the road to Mandalay where the flyin-fishes play.”