How Myanmar is falling into a ‘failed state’ –

How Myanmar is falling into a ‘failed state’

Roads were car-free, restaurants were empty behind metal doors, and convenience stores, the nerve center of so many neighborhoods, were silent and dark.

It was a scene that was repeated across Myanmar on Wednesday when anti-coup protesters called for a “silent attack” to increase pressure on the military government, which took power last month and has since killed at least 275 civilians, including one 7 year old boy. Tuesday, who was shot sitting on her father’s lap during a raid in Mandalay.

The strike, part of a widespread civil disobedience movement that includes railway workers, bank employees, doctors, factory workers and even diplomats, is designed to cripple Myanmar’s economy in hopes of fracturing the junta and denying it legitimacy.

Taxes are left uncollected. Many banks cannot send or receive funds. Trade has come to a standstill due to a lack of customs agents and striking truckers. The country of 54 million is approaching a “failed state” or a “civil war,” analysts at the Eurasia Group said.

Myanmar’s collapse could hinge on the staying power of the civil disobedience movement, which has been condemned by a nervous army that responded by arresting and targeting those involved. Earlier this week, striking railroad employees and their families were evicted from state housing.

Strikes and economic upheavals are born out of desperation. But the campaign is a risky tactic in one of Asia’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries, which was already recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. If pushed too hard, the movement punishes not only the junta, but also civilians struggling to survive.

The United Nations World Food Program warned last week that rising food prices triggered by the crisis could increase hunger among the millions of people who live from food to food. Migrant workers are reportedly fleeing the manufacturing districts of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, en masse because they can no longer find work and are terrorized by security forces.

Opponents of the military dictatorship, including the remnants of the deposed civilian government, see strangling the economy as their best weapon. It is highly unlikely that the UN will intervene forcefully. Sanctions have proven ineffective in the past. Powerful neighbors like China and India are more concerned with their regional influence than with restoring democracy in Myanmar. And the army, known as the Tatmadaw, has shown no significant signs of ruptures within its ranks that could reverse its takeover.

“It is better to die than live under a military regime,” said a foreign ministry official who supports the civil disobedience movement and who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his family. “We have nothing to lose. We have already lost everything. We have no education system, no healthcare, and no economic equality. What future is there?

This is not how things looked a decade ago when democratic reforms ended nearly 60 years of military dictatorship in a country ravaged by civil war, ethnic strife and the painful legacy of British colonialism.

Foreign brands such as Coca-Cola and KFC arrived in Myanmar, which is also called Burma, considering it one of the last untapped frontier markets in Asia. The garment industry sparked an export boom. A generation free of isolation was being raised with access to the Internet.

Progress was slow. The armed conflict still marked swaths of the country. Infrastructure such as roads and electricity remain woefully inadequate. The civilian government headed by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since the February 1 coup, often valued loyalty over experience. And the Tatmadaw leadership forged business empires to enrich their families and cronies, partnering with foreign companies like Chevron and Hilton.

However, hope persisted. The country’s economy grew apace, providing migrants like Soe Soe New a way out of poverty.

The 26-year-old left her war-torn Rakhine state in western Myanmar five years ago and found a steady income as a garment worker in Yangon earning more than $ 200 a month, enough to support her parents at home.

The pandemic ended his good luck. As foreign brands canceled orders, jobs began to disappear. His monthly income dropped to $ 85. Things have only gotten worse since the coup. You are now trying to earn $ 34 until you can find a new job.

“I am upset that I came here to work for my survival, and now there is no work,” said Soe Soe New. “Most of my friends have had to go back to their villages. You may also have to go home if the situation continues to get worse. “

Soe Soe New said she has had little time to reflect on the civil disobedience movement, which is more commonly known as the CDM.

“I have to consider myself first,” she said. “If we don’t work, we don’t get money. I need to support my parents. “

Kyaw Nyant, a 67-year-old street vendor in Yangon who belongs to a generation of migrants from the Irrawaddy Delta who fled the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, sympathizes with anti-coup protesters who defy the junta’s violent crackdown. But the fruit and vegetable vendor refused to share his views on the CDM.

“When I was young, I saw a lot of people killed just for talking about politics,” he said.

Their concern is getting enough food and medicine. He earns just $ 3 a day, about half of what he needs to make ends meet. Gone are the donations of rice and cooking oil from the old civil government. He has had to depend on the help of his children and older siblings to survive, although he is not sure how long it can last.

“I don’t feel very sorry for the political movement because I have faced many difficult situations,” Kyaw Nyant said. “Young people protest against the military regime to change their future and their destiny. They believe that they are doing it to build a better society ”.

If that fails, Myanmar could face a crisis that resembles the implosion of Syria, said a non-governmental conflict management expert speaking privately to avoid endangering his staff in Myanmar.

“The worst case scenario would be a civil war,” he said. “We could see the establishment of a parallel government that controls the territory so that humanitarian aid reaches some parts of the country, but not others.”

Such a collapse does not seem imminent. Myanmar’s thriving underground economy driven by smugglers and traders along the border regions could allow the country to get ahead, he said.

Others say the Tatmadaw will likely try to circumvent damage to the economy by exploiting the country’s abundant natural resources, such as oil and gas, wood, and jade. The military government has already hastily organized a gem auction for next month to raise much-needed revenue.

“If you look at how the Tatmadaw ruled the country, it was looting resources for funding,” said Kevin Woods, an environmental expert on Southeast Asia at the University of Hawaii.

Foreign companies and organizations that bet on Myanmar’s resurgence over the past decade are now reassessing their commitments, particularly as international pressure mounts to avoid the junta.

Global Guardian, a McLean, Virginia-based security services company with several major foreign corporate clients in Myanmar, has been organizing evacuations, first on commercial flights and now on charter flights.

Those trips have been sporadic, sometimes delayed because there haven’t been enough air traffic controllers or staff working on an airport’s X-ray scanners, said Dale Buckner, the firm’s chief executive.

One of the Global Guardian’s most coveted services amid the banking disruption is sending money through a broker in Singapore that has cash on hand in Myanmar for employees to be paid.

The deterioration of the economy and the increase in violence in the last two weeks led Buckner to warn his clients that the crisis would not resolve itself any time soon.

“The panic is really starting to set in,” he said.

Times editor Pierson reported from Singapore and special correspondent Kyaw Hsan Hlaing from Yangon. Special correspondent Andrew Nachemson in Yangon contributed to this report.

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