Myanmar in the 1990’s


In the absence of recent demographic data (the last census dates back to 1983), international organizations estimate 44,497. 000 residents the population of Myanmar in 1998. The country maintains rather high growth rates (19 ‰ in the period 1991-96), produced by a still very strong birth rate (31 ‰), against a relatively low mortality; over the last few decades, however, there has been a reduction in the birth rate and overall increase.

The ethnic situation, which sees the Burmese component firmly in the majority (69 % of the total), has somewhat improved compared to the 1980s. The change of the official name to Union of Myanmar, whose intent was to confirm the equality of the various ethnic groups present in the country, found at least partial confirmation in a political will, so that different ethnic groups reached agreements with the central government and the end of the guerrilla warfare and de facto secession was negotiated (see below: History).

Economic conditions

The process of pacification and reunification therefore makes slow progress: the central government does not yet have effective control of the whole territory, drug trafficking continues almost as before and some particularly aggressive minorities (Karen, Kachin) continue their armed opposition. In the international field, the government has restarted, after about forty years of rigorous isolation, political and especially economic relations with the countries of the area, strongly promoted by China (which since 1997 is the first trading partner of Myanmar) and, to balance the growing Chinese influence, including from India and the countries of the Indochinese Peninsula. Also in this direction the Myanmar has achieved a series of important results, culminating in 1997with the entry into ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), despite the opposition of the United States; from a geopolitical point of view, on the other hand, the position of Myanmar in the region is such as to be decisive in the process of political stabilization and economic growth of the whole area: it is well understood the attention and willingness with which the countries neighbors have followed the most recent evolution of Myanmar, while the country’s leadership can play its geopolitical position favorably to obtain political and economic support.

The changed internal conditions of Myanmar have made it flow, at first timidly then increasingly, direct foreign investments both in the exploitation of mineral and forest resources, and in the start-up of new industrial activities (especially in the textile field) that are joining the few already existing (food, textiles, cement). It should be emphasized that Burmese agriculture (which employed just under 70 % of the assets in the mid-1990s) has for some time achieved conditions of food self-sufficiency and is able to export good quantities of product.

Since the early nineties, GDP took to grow at very high rates (more than 6 % in 1993 and in 1994, 7, 2 % in 1995, 7 % in 1996), while improving public finances and increased exports. The GDP per resident, as is obvious, has registered a remarkable growth, reaching 1,790 dollars (1996). Between 1996 and 1997 however, demonstrating the fact that such a conspicuous and continuous growth owed almost everything to an internal and external political will, there was the withdrawal of part of foreign capital, accompanied by a sharp fall in production and a very serious financial crisis; the primary cause of this seems to have been the growing mistrust of international political circles towards the Burmese government and its aims of democratic opening, a mistrust led by the United States which, in 1997, included Myanmar among the countries under embargo (for violations of human rights and lack of commitment in the fight against drug trafficking). On the other hand, the weakness of Myanmar’s productive and financial apparatus exposes the country to the repercussions of external crises, as was the case in the1997, due to the collapse of the Bangkok stock exchange, another cause of the Burmese economic recession.

Myanmar in the 1990's 2