Monday, August 28, 2006

Last British ambassador to Burma calls for comparative research

The Burmese Patient
By Vicky Bowman, British ambassador to Myanmar (2002-2006)
August 2006

Analyzes the current state of economic and political development within Burma using a analogy of disease and treatment of disease. A very balanced assessment and call for more research on Burmese politics and economic development using comparisons with Chile, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Korea.

How a study of pathology helps in an assessment of a sick nation’s problems

"Regardless of the motivation or qualifications of those prescribing the medicine, the main thing to remember is that our goal should be the Burmese patient’s sustainable recovery. This was brought home to me by a presentation at a recent Burma Day conference in Brussels, where one activist produced graphs to show that the campaign objectives of his organization had been increasingly achieved year-on-year. Yet the rest of us at the conference, Burmese and non-Burmese alike, had been standing around the patient’s bed all day unanimously agreeing that he had never looked in a worse state of health."

"It would be a mistake to believe that there can be a miracle or rapid cure. Many other less developed and even better developed countries suffer from the same symptoms as Burma, such as poverty, corruption, inequality, unsustainable natural resource exploitation, lack of freedom, and a growing burden of HIV. Many countries are sicker than Burma on some or all of these counts. Treatment for systemic problems is never straightforward..."

"So we need more research, and more evaluation. In particular, we should review how countries such as Chile, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Korea recovered (or are recovering) from military and one-party dictatorship, and consider the relevance of that experience to Burma. And policies, whether they are implemented by the Burmese government, the international community, opposition or exiles; whether mass planting of physic nut bodies, banking sanctions, or banning ethnic languages from the primary school curriculum, should be openly and honestly evaluated for their short and long-term impacts and effectiveness. Lack of accountability is a big problem inside the country, but it is also a problem with the opposition and exiles. Audit should also include lessons to be learned from success stories, such as the shift in government attitudes to HIV/AIDS, and the boom in beans and pulse exports which has benefited dry zone farmers. In the latter case, an unusually laissez faire approach by the government, which allowed farmers to grow crops freely and respond to market mechanisms and incentives, supported by a domestic banking infrastructure which facilitates the work of brokers across the country, were key factors promoting economic growth....

...Full organ transplantation is a risky last resort. So more needs to be done to heal and strengthen Burma’s existing internal organs such as the education system, the judiciary and the police, through a diet of capacity-building. Unhealthily enlarged organs, such as the military, need to be reduced to the correct size so that they function more efficiently. And the backbone of civil society needs to be strengthened.

Pathology derives from the Greek word pathos, which means "suffering, feeling, emotion." These are common feelings for all who work to try and bring about change in Burma. But I believe we need to put emotions aside, and take a dispassionate look at the evidence, and draw appropriate conclusions.