Myanmar (Burma) — then (2015) and now (2022)

Looking back at my time in Myanmar (Burma)

Photo by Author — reclining Buddha
Photo by Author — reclining Buddha

I first visited Myanmar (Burma) in 2015 and then again in early 2018. No doubt I will be writing about that visit later, but now, I want to look at Myanmar in 2022.

I enjoyed both my visits to Myanmar (Burma). I found it a great country to explore, with wonderful, friendly people. I very much enjoyed my time in the country, and I was looking forward to many more visits in the future.

On my 2015 visit, Myanmar (Burma) felt like the country was opening up after nearly 50 years of military dictatorship. People seemed optimistic about the future. And what was noticeable was there was not much ‘western’ influence in the country. I saw no McDonald’s or Burger Kings, and I only saw one KFC in Yangon (Rangoon).

When I spoke to people, they had plans for the future. They talked about travel and change for the good. There was an energy. They wanted external investment and input. They seemed keen to work with companies from outside the country. Not only that, but they wanted to travel abroad for education and for fun.

When I returned in early 2018, I noticed some changes. There were McDonald’s and Burger King-type establishments appearing. There were advertisements for ‘western’ goods such as Coke and Pepsi. Shopping malls were beginning to appear in Yangon (Rangoon). I was also starting to hear about the Rohingya and what was happening.

In late 2018, I cut all business links with the country. I decided not to return until the situation in the country became clear.

In 2018, the story of the Rohingya genocide started to emerge. I heard conflicting reports of what had happened. My Muslim friends in Myanmar (Burma) and the surrounding countries gave me their side of the story, as did my non-Muslim friends. Both groups of friends seemed to be getting their version of events from different social media streams. In the end, I went with the BBC and the UK press and formed my own opinion. It looked like genocide — and in March 2021, the US government came to the same conclusion — Myanmar Rohingya violence is genocide, US says.

Then there was the coup in February 2021.

There was hope when I visited Myanmar (Burma) in 2015 and 2018. A promise of a bright future. Yes, it wasn’t a full democracy, as the military retained control over 25% of the seats in parliament. Plus, the military ran the major ministries, such as defence and information. But people were optimistic.

The coup in 2021 put an end to all that. And I have not been back to Myanmar (Burma) since the military take-over. I have no plans to return until democracy is restored.

I feel for the people of Myanmar. It is so sad. And this week (late July 2022), I was deeply saddened to read about the execution of democracy activists — Myanmar junta executes democracy activists in first such killings in decades. I was heartened to read that protests are continuing — ‘We are not afraid’: anti-junta groups rail against Myanmar executions — but at the same time, fearful of what the military might do.

The plight of Myanmar (Burma) is in my thoughts. I hope the citizens of the beautiful country can stay safe and that democracy will soon return.