Friday, March 29, 2013

Decolonization: Myanmar-Burma

Decolonization: Beginning the Shift


            The decolonization process, which was the beginning stage of imperial transition from colonialism to globalization, varied depending on the colonized state, the value of the colonized state, government/economic/political/social structures, and the culminating point of independence.  The imperial transition from colonialism to globalization redefined the characteristics of imperialism from economic exploitation by nation-states to economic exploitation by capital private sector entities, corporate states, which utilize the military and political strengths of nation-states specifically through the consolidated international authority of International Government Organizations (IGOs).  It was no historical coincidence that the post WWII Bretton Woods Conference coincided the epoch of post colonialism.  At the same time, not every capitalist plan that was developed for post-colonial states worked out in the best short-term interests of the global market due to the sporadic nature of stability in post-colonial states.


            Not every post-colonial state has been a beacon of stability for international capital investment and exploitation.  Burma, known today as Myanmar, like many other post-colonial properties after national independence, has suffered from domestic political fractioning caused by the political void left by colonialism since its independence in 1948.  The decade leading into Burmese independence saw the world conflict, World War II, spill across its borders, which can be briefly analyzed in the British government statement of 1945: “The Japanese invasion and the long interval of enemy occupation and active warfare in her territories, during which she has suffered grave damage not only in the form of material destruction but in a shattering of the foundations of her economic and social life” [1].  While the British government termed their military reacquisition of Burma as liberation, both Britain and Japan were foreign occupiers battling over a strategic colonial chess piece on the international stage.  The destructive economic results of war resulted in the opening invitation for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (known today as the World Bank). 

The international private sector, especially the Bretton Woods conference members, considered the new independent Burma as a major prospect in 1948 for future economic exploitation and profiting.  By 1954, the World Bank was making preparations for Burmese membership and the World Bank issued their first funding allotments to the Burmese government on May 4, 1956. [2]   Britain attempted to do in Burma what had been attempted in the majority of British post-colonial possessions, and “from 1948 to 1958, the country was a parliamentary democracy based on a U.K.-inspired constitution”, a government structure that has been historically very capitalism friendly [3].

The main problems for foreign capitalist globalizing entities concerning Burma emerged in the early phases of the Cold War and stemmed from a post-colonial political power vacuum, and the domestic splintering in Burma lead to a 1962 military coup and the establishment of a socialist government under General Ne Win “who abolishes the federal system and inaugurates "the Burmese Way to Socialism" - nationalising the economy, forming a single-party state with the Socialist Programme Party as the sole political party, and banning independent newspapers” [4].  This was problematic for the international so-called free market because socialist governments tend to lean toward isolation and collective national economic resources, rather than international economic trade (of natural resources) and the accumulation of individual private capital.

In 1987, during the last years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Burma saw heavy currency devaluation which destabilized the domestic state in the form of anti-government riots (more than likely funded from foreign entities interested in seeing Burma return to a more capital-friendly form of government, similar to events in Syria today), and in 1990 Democratic elections were held and the “Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)” won a “landslide victory in general election” [5].  At this juncture across the post-Cold War international stage, the World Bank again attempted to pull Burma back into the global free market, as was the trend during this period as capital globalization began to spread eastward in efforts to pull post-Soviet satellite states into the global free market (in order to exploit their natural resources).  The World Bank’s second funding efforts in Burma were also a default failure that resulted in a twenty-five year break between the Bank and the state. 


Burma, now Myanmar, has only recently began to recover from the domestic political void and power splintering originally caused by colonialism, and the people of Burma have suffered for the lack of “economic correlations and international isolation” that has “led to economic stagnation, despite a short-lived effort towards economic liberalisation in the late 1980s” [6] .  Myanmar, which is “is a poor country in spite of its vast natural resources”, never transformed into the economic machine expected by international capitalist entities, but could eventually, still become used for mass foreign economic exploitation [7].  After all, Burma/Myanmar is still ‘virgin’ territory for globalization as “industrialization is still in an embryonic stage and agriculture retains a pivotal role in Burma/Myanmar’s economy, accounting for nearly 60% of the country’s GDP” [8]

The World Bank “is set to re-engage with Burma 25 years after freezing its lending, but the Southeast Asian country must first repay several hundred million dollars in outstanding arrears” and while there is concern by international investors concerning “continued violence in many of Burma’s border areas – notably Kachin state”, Myanmar may still reach its destiny of having its natural resources depleted and exploited by foreign capitalist corporations; a post-colonial destiny that may have only been delayed by post-colonial domestic factors on an international chess board.


1. Modern History Sourcebook: British Government Statement: Policy in Burma, May 1945, Fordham University,   

2. World Bank Historical Chronology: 1950-1959, World Bank,,,contentMDK:20035658~menuPK:56315~pagePK:36726~piPK:437378~theSitePK:29506,00.html

3. Lex Rieffel, The Myanmar Economy: Tough Choices, Brookings Institute, September 2012,

4. BBC News, Burma Profile: Chronology of Events, March 21, 2013,

5. BBC News, Burma Profile: Chronology of Events, March 21, 2013,

6. The EC-Burma/Myanmar Strategy Paper 2007-2013, European Union,

7. The EC-Burma/Myanmar Strategy Paper 2007-2013, European Union,

8. The EC-Burma/Myanmar Strategy Paper 2007-2013, European Union,

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