Monday, November 8, 2010

Myanmar - Top Heavy, Bottom Down and In The Wings of China

Having just returned to Australia (after being advised to get out of Myanmar before the elections results are posted), I want to comment on some observations while on a travel journey into this beautiful, fractured and brittle land.

Firstly the Military, and presumably soon to be anointed Government, hold within its power and control 80-90% of the countries wealth. Myanmar is a top heavy and no feed to the bottom economy. Underneath the military the country’s public servants and middle class have access to about 20% of the country’s wealth and remainder taking what’s left over, this grouping making up about 70-80% of the population. Like an old style Cuba and looking like it through the antiquated Toyota Coronas and Corollas servicing Yangon's taxi fleet and dominant road users; dodging potholes and broken streets. Vehicles held together with hope and not much else. A country held together with brutal dominance at the top and ‘’just let me just do my own thing’’ at the bottom.

These assertions I’ve suggested signify Myanmar’s future. The military with their connections and cronies control the country’s wealth and distribute this wealth, as seen fit. The middle classes get a share and do well (alongside professional and small to medium sized businesses who feed from the top and bottom). The majority of Myanmar’s population lead lives of continued denial (to education, health and infrastructure support) and remain in entrenched poverty. Ironically, they are tolerant, content and mostly happy (as good Buddhists do in adverse situations).

Another scenario is China sitting up there to Myanmar’s north and the Indian Ocean (and access to it), waiting in the south. The Irrawaddy caresses its way through the country and within, a most valuable resource in fertile soils, climate stability, cheap labour, natural gas and water for power and irrigation. Teak forests abound and in all, too valuable to let Myanmar fall into the hands of Western styled democracies and that of wealth distributed top down as Western democracies postulate (but seldom practice).

I suggest Myanmar will remain under the influence of China, continue to do so and indefinitely enough to resist any Western styled democracy take hold. Myanmar’s military staying where it is because of convenience to remain so.

I for one would like to see the Myanmar Government realise they have a beneficial future by sharing its wealth with the 70 or so percentage of their population at the bottom and these able to share and participate in strengthening an economy less reliant on the influences of a few. Myanmar could learn from China’s modernisation and adopt some of its programs to accommodate limited and beneficial Western influences.

I doubt such an outcome and feel Myanmar will continue to drift along its slow crippled pathway of denial and entrenched poverty for its people.