Myanmar Is Failing

Myanmar is failing. Sure, investments and development of industrial zones, ports, and extractive resources and tourism are making corporations and the Myanmar cronies wealthy. But, Myanmar is failing. For the majority of people in Myanmar, not much has changed.

There are so many ways to consider the health of this nation as the European Union has lifted sanctions and the United States has done so as well. But for those in Myanmar not able to purchase a car to add to the traffic jams, Myanmar is failing.

The new cheap SIM cards that were supposed to go on sale months ago have finally hit the streets. But, wait, not really. It was just announced that each township will get an allotment and that anyone wishing to have one, for about $1.50, will have to enter into a lottery. Or, as they call it here, enter a “Lucky Draw”. Favoritism and cronyism, and corruption have all but assured that ordinary people won’t get the SIM card. People “winning” the SIM card in Lucky Draw have been re-selling them fro 100 times the cost.

The Internet in Myanmar hardly works at all. Even for people with phones having 3G Internet access the Internet goes off more and more lately. In Mandalay it’s worse than Yangon. Also, electricity outages have made online communication something like a lucky draw. It’s impossible to think of Mynamar improving and moving into the modern world, or even moving towards it, without stable electricity and Internet.

Electricity in Myanmar is also a massive failure. The power is on and off every day, all day long. Food spoils in refrigerators, computer routers go off, water pumps stop pumping water, and people get stuck in elevators. How is this continued nuisance of lack of stable electricity going to help Myanmar develop into a remotely normal place? Outside of Yangon I doubt villagers care very much when the power goes out, if they have electricity at all. But in Yangon, without a backup generator, life has not changed for the better for anyone. Myanmar is failing.

Poor people all over the country are having their land stolen from them by “investors”. An old friend of mine, someone who was financially influential during the pre and post 1988 era, who has lived on and off in Los Angeles, New York, and Yangon, who own restaurants and other businesses, is getting access to prime land in Bagan and near Inle Lake. When I asked who owned the land before you bought it she said “villagers”. When I asked how much the villagers got for their land she said “not much bit they weren’t doing anything with it anyway. We’re going to build a resort and give people jobs”.

This woman is a representative for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and she has contacts and influence with politicians, cronies and business people. She poses as a Democracy activist but in reality, she’s a carpetbagger willing to sell out her country to make a buck. She is one of thousands of Myanmar people cashing in their chits and selling out their nation.

People in Monywa whose land was stolen from them for the Chinese/Myanmar joint venture copper mine have been resisting resettlement – again. A couple of months ago Aung San Suu Kyi met with them after they had been brutally assaulted and abused by the Myanmar military. Her message to them was that they should leave their ancestral lands to let the mine flourish and pollute the region for the sake of economic progress. As much as most people admire The Lady, she failed her people.

The Lady also has been almost silent on issues of ethnic violence and especially violence against Muslim people native to Myanmar. In fact, many people I have long known and admired have at some time or another had very unappealing comments towards Muslims after the violence spread to Yangon. Many Buddhist people have told me that the Muslims should go back to where they came from. To be honest, my own brother says that of any immigrants he sees on the streets of America or on TV. Xenophobia has no boundaries and Buddhists are not any different from American tea party nutjobs and skinheads in Ukraine.

There is no rule of law in Myanmar. I’ve seen people driving speeding cars up onto sidewalks honking horns at people to get out of their way as they rush to get in front of one or two cars only to sit again in the long line of traffic clogging all of Yangon’s streets. Myanmar people drive without any sense of safety or common courtesy. Groups of traffic police stand on the side of some roads selecting which cars they’ll stop and extract money from the driver for some foolish violation. Mainly, when in a crowd of Myanmar people, say at a concert or festival, it’s normal for people to push and shove someone to make them move out of the way. Myanmar people have no concept of personal space, that invisible shield of one or two feet American people cherish. That’s why Myanmar people drive like they walk in crowds or in markets. I can’t say I’ve ever like speed radar traps when living in the U.S. but now, after seeing how Myanmar people drive, knowing they have no traffic laws or consequences for being unsafe on the roads, I appreciate the reason for having safety belts and speed limits in the United States.

There is a gold rush mentality and it’s everyone for themselves or their family. People who are educated seem only to want to cash in and make money at any cost and without a care in the world for other people. Roads are clogged with giant SUV’s and buildings are sprouting up everywhere. There is no planning, no zoning, people even feel free to park their car in the middle of the road in busy townships to go sit in a beer shop or to go buy some trendy new clothing made in China. Where is the common sense? Most of the population of Myanmar people have no education or have been subjected to government education by rote in which they were lectured at from youth until college graduation. Getting a good grade mainly depended upon how much tea money one paid a professor or teacher.

These aren’t generalities I’m talking about. This is the endemic way of life in Myanmar. Corruption and cronyism, child labor, forced labor, ethnic discriminating, wars in ethnic areas, unchecked development and pollution, open sewers lining most streets in every township, no education or horrendously bad education, racism, conservative Buddhist exceptionalism, fear and low wages for anyone with a job, including those working for the many, many NGO’s now habiting Myanmar, are the reason Myanmar is failing.

Myanmar is looking pretty in the right places for tourists and diplomats and people coming here to give scholarships the wealthy kids who don’t need them. USAID and AUSAID are funding the major agencies like PACT and others whose budgets go to paying the salaries and living expenses of it’s western managers, up to 60% as I’m told by one who works for PACT in finance. What is the “AID” for? It’s for developing a complacent local climate for western businesses and corporations in Myanmar. While USAID pays homage to the multitude of corporations they trickle down a little bit with study abroad scholarships. But mainly the grant money they put out goes to people from the west making high salaries and for locals they employ, if any.

But, never mind, Nobel Peach Prize Winner Obama came here to give his blessing to Myanmar’s crony government and Aung San Suu Kyi finds herself in a precarious position, having taken money for her national league for Democracy party from the military dictators who imprisoned her and thousands of others for advocating for a democratic government and rule of law. What’s her next move going to be? She’s crafty and smart, no doubt. But telling dirt-poor farmers to leave their homes in favor of a wealthy Chinese mining company and wealthy Myanmar cronies was a huge mistake and it’s insight into her futility in dealing with the powder keg of institutionalized injustice and inequality in Myanmar.

Daniel Opacki is an educator and writer who lived in Burma for five years. His collection of stories about his time in Burma is forthcoming. Now residing in Vientiane, Lao PDR, he can be reached via his personal blog at Bamboodazed.com. Read other articles by Daniel.