I’m back in New York reflecting on the view from my Yangon hotel room. Each morning I woke up to a city under construction. Cranes seemed to rise from the streets trying to make up for lost decades—a perfect metaphor for our week in Myanmar, which I left with two major lessons in mind.
- Capacity Is Key: We saw this time and time again in both human capacity and capital capacity. In terms of human capacity, the educational systems don’t exist in the ways that are necessary and an entire generation is essentially lost to the decades of military rule. The key now, is to figure out to best educate the next generation. Repatriation can’t be the only answer, but it’s a start. Capital capacity is equally important, and there are many organizations working to solve this through economic and legal reforms that will make it easier for foreign investors. But these two issues work hand in hand, and one without the other will do little to move the country forward.
- The Democratic Government Is Not Where It Needs to Be, Economically or Ethically: Leading up to our trip to Myanmar, one concern rose above all others for me: Why am I visiting a country amid a humanitarian crisis—and does that make me, by default, a supporter of what is happening? I made sure to read as much as possible about it in the English-language press so I could come prepared to ask hard-hitting questions. Ultimately though, it was shocking how much Yangon feels divorced from the controversy. People we met with dismissed it as something that has been going on for years and therefore not a real issue. Others excused Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as a sign she is working with the military behind the scenes to bring peace, and making a public statement would compromise that position. Their excuses rang false to my ears and if the country really plans to move forward with the help of international aid it’s going to need to reckon with its actions. What I was not expecting, was the sentiments of ex-pats and citizens who missed the efficiency of military rule. People are nostalgic for those days and are critical of how the current government is stacked with party loyalists who are older and not as well versed in many of the issues that they oversee. Bottlenecks in decision making are common, making processes that should take hours or days take months. This comes back to the issues from my first point: Human capacity makes all the difference, and, if you’re not training people and educating them properly, what does that mean for your future?
While I seem to be ending on a pessimistic tone, I am hopeful that in the coming years we will see Myanmar reckon with its past. Only then can it truly emerge as the regional leader it once was.
-Miriam Krule ’18