Myanmar Program

The Myanmar Program seeks to broaden and deepen the understanding of the development and democratic governance challenges facing Myanmar. The Program moves beyond technical economics to understand the broader political economy of reform and explore the connections between politics and institutional development to better address the country’s social and economic problems.

A New Leadership Wants to Promote Unity, Development, and Democracy

In the spring of 2011, a new government took office in Myanmar. A series of conciliatory political measures and even a measure of dialogue with the opposition followed, marking a stark departure from the repressive pattern of the previous military government and signaling that the political stalemate that had held the country back for several decades was finally yielding to a more constructive approach. However, the new government has inherited an economy that is backwards and distorted, and is struggling to contain religious tensions that threaten political and economic progress.

Years of poor management and lack of investment in education have deprived the government of local capacity to assess and understand the challenges, let alone design a sustainable and equitable growth strategy. Furthermore, growth will not be sustainable without increased national cohesion built upon peace and widely-shared progress. It is clear that successful development in Myanmar will need political as well as economic development innovation.

Natural Resources and Ethnic Groups

Myanmar has additional complications: a third of its population is composed of various ethnic groups that have often been in conflict with the military and live on the resource-rich borders of the country. While managing an economic and political transition, these groups have to be included and their militias have to secure jobs which are more attractive than continued armed extraction. The country’s natural resources also attract interest from neighboring countries, local business people, and the military. Satisfying these interests and resolving conflicts in a way which leads to broadly based growth are an integral part of nation building. This will sometimes require incumbent groups to compromise with others who have not been well represented in the past. This is a difficult process and is one reason why some resource-rich nations have difficulty converting their natural wealth into growing well-being.