Brutal Profitability in Myanmar

The problem in Arakan for the regime is the Rakhine, not the Rohingya. The Rohingya are what the regime is using to divert the growing hostility of the Rakhine; the majority population in a resource-rich state with the second-longest coastline in the country, who want to control their own natural resources, and who have a history of secessionist ambitions.

By redirecting their discontent away from the government, and towards the helpless Rohingya, the regime is delaying the inevitable uprising of the Rakhine Buddhists and creating a scenario in which full military occupation of the state can be eventually justified. The purpose of such an occupation, of course, will be to secure Yangon’s control of the resources in Arakan state, though the pretext will be to clamp down on ethnic and religious violence.

The same scenario should be expected in Kachin state as well.

An iron-fisted military policy is almost a requirement of Neoliberalism in the developing world.  Maintaining centralised control of all of a country’s resources is essential for the efficient collaboration between local and global elites; it is the only way the local ruling class can retain its power.  Under Neoliberalism, the level of poverty, exploitation and deprivation  is simply too inhumane to not result in popular opposition. Instituting a harsh military presence, particularly in economically valuable states, can preemptively subdue any potential uprising.  This is what is happening in Arakan state, and elsewhere.

According to the World Bank, Arakan is the poorest state in Myanmar, while it holds the country’s most sought after resource: natural gas. This is absolutely a recipe for conflict; indeed, for revolution.  It is crucial for the regime to establish total control; and the more brutally this control is established, the more confident investors will be.  The regime, in the mercenary mindset of global capitalism, is doing everything right.  Atrocities and human rights violations and military repression make investment in Myanmar more attractive, not less.

The horror in Arakan is fundamentally driven by economics; the ethnic and religious bigotries manifested by the conflict are simply modalities   This being the case, we are all, as consumers and workers, in a position to influence the course of this crisis.  While Western companies are still new to Myanmar, their presence is increasing, and the US alone is hoping to double its investment over the next 3 years.  Multinational corporations are managing the trajectory of policy in Myanmar, and these corporations are everywhere; they are wherever we are and we are wherever they are; we absolutely have the power to influence them.

If, through our activism and consumer choices, we express our disapproval for these companies’ collaboration with the regime in Yangon because of the regime’s brutality, CEOs and shareholders from across every industrial sector will reprimand the regime and force a policy change. As long as brutality is profitable, it will continue.  Making it unprofitable, therefore, is the task at hand; and no one can make it unprofitable except us.

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