Monday, 2 April 2012

Burma - A Bright New Future?

The glorious images of the Burmese people freely and openly waving banners of support for Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party are hugely encouraging. For a nation that has been under some form of military rule for half a century, serious steps have been taken in recent years towards democracy. In the figure of Mother Suu we find a captivating face to attach to this story of steady progress. 

But let us not get caught in the inspirational nature of it all. We have to ask ourselves why all this is happening in the first place? Why is it exactly, that a oppressive dictatorship would suddenly wish to open itself up to reform in this manner? The angelic Mother Suu sees it all as an apparent act of good will on behalf of Thein Sein, the current president. At a conference at her villa last Friday, Aung San Suu Kyi defended Sein, claiming he had “genuine wishes for democratic reform.” That she is apparently so full of good will is indeed impressive, but there isn’t a great deal of searching that need be done to find ulterior motives. 

Pictures of Mother Suu are abound among the hopeful

Economic sanctions on Burma were beginning to hurt. So what is more likely; a military dictatorship sacrifices power in exchange for ideals, or they hoped to make Burma a more prosperous place, along with their own wallets. Their gamble appears to be working. Multi-nationals are gathering at the borders in packs. Financier Jim Rodgers has already stated that if he could, he would put all his money in Burma. We ought to be reserved about welcoming these investments with arms so open they are at risk of breaking. 

Betel-nut farmer Sae Sein Myint said in light of recent events that “I’m struggling. I want my kids to work in a factory, not struggle like me.” The tell-tale signs of a lifetime of oppression are clear when the aspirations of a human being for their children is limited to working in a factory, a factory with typical exploitative conditions in all likelihood. Burma has virtually no labour rights and a population ripe for long hours and cheap wages. We ought not feel so happy about investment when the likely cost can be measured in further human misery. 

None of this is to say change is not welcome. It is to reassert what should be obvious - there is a terribly long way to go before the Burmese people can harness their own rich natural resources and use them to the benefit of the population. This is not the same as an invasion of western sweatshops. Until more is revealed in 2015’s general elections, vigilance would not go unwarranted. 

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