September 14, 2012
By Mark Wallace
About 24 hours ago Chris and I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, formerly Burma. It’s a surreal place…
During the 45 -minute cab ride from the airport I felt a lot of emotions: excitement, angst, joy, desperation, hope, fear, scepticism and a hundred others. I’ve never been anywhere with this kind of energy.
The country has had a very long, very dark history of repression and isolation. It’s been shut off from the rest of the world for my entire lifetime.
Despite the horrors that have befallen them, Myanmar’s people are some of the gentlest, kindest souls on this rock. How the leadership of a nation of mostly peaceful Buddhists could have invoked the kind of repression, terror and inhumanity that they have on Myanmar’s people is beyond my ability to comprehend.
Looking into their eyes leaves you heartbroken that they’ve had to endure as long as they have. Yet, at long last Myanmar’s leadership appears to be walking the path of reform and embracing a little piece of capitalism.
You can feel the change. Our experience in the last 24-hours has been nothing short of incredible.
Coming through customs and immigration at the airport was a breeze. The staff was pleasant and helpful. Our cab driver told us straight up what the cost of our trip would be, no games, no bickering.
The service level at the hotels and restaurants surpasses that of most Asian cities I’ve been to, including Singapore. They may not be as educated or worldly, but their desire to please and their huge smiles overcome any deficiencies. You can teach someone how to deliver good service, but you can’t fake sincerity and genuine kindness.
Despite the pervasive poverty and homelessness in the city, Chris and I never once felt threatened or like we were being sized-up.
The group of investors we are here with, who have come from all over the world to put their boots-on-the-ground, mostly agreed with us.
Myanmar is not only rich with its human capital, it is RICH in natural resources. Multi-national mining and agriculture companies are chomping at the bit waiting to figure out how to claim their slice of what will inevitably be one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies – at some point.
And that point may come sooner than later. Just this week the government repealed an investment law that required a minimum $5M investment for foreigners wishing to do business in the country, and levelled the playing field for ownership, giving the green light to 50% foreign ownership of a Myanmar business.
That’s great progress, but as a new friend of mine who has lived in Asia for almost 20-years pointed out, the rule of law is still in question here. Until more clarity is gained on that issue, investment will be slower than it could be.
You can count on hearing MUCH more from Chris and I later this week, but now I have to hit the sack; it’s been 24-hours of planes, cabs and buses.
In the interim I’ll leave you with an example of the challenges Myanmar still faces. These excerpts are from a government publication that is handed out to visitors coming into the airport…
Four Economic Objectives:
The building of a modern industrialized nation through agricultural development, and all-round development of other sectors of the economy; Proper evolution of the market-oriented economic system; Development of the economy by inviting participation in terms of technical know-how and investment from sources inside the country and abroad; The initiative to shape the national economy must be kept in the hands of the State and the national peoples.
Can you pick out the two points that are pretty much in direct conflict? If not, I’ve highlighted them for you.
“The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations.” – Aung San Suu Kyi
Photo Credit: Google Images