African business, politics and lifestyle
Myanmar’s ‘African’ flag
To celebrate the transition to “democracy” after 48 years of unbroken army rule, Myanmar’s generals have tweaked the country’s official title and introduced a new flag. Nothing unusual about that – changing name and appearance to make a break with the past has been a part of human and diplomatic society for centuries. What is not clear is why the former Burma’s secretive generals chose to make their new flag look quite so African.
Out has gone the red and blue de rigeur in southeast Asia, in favour of a white star on yellow, green and red stripes that to the untrained eye looks like it comes from a Bob Marley album cover or small West African republic.
According to Myanmar’s official media – the only sort of media in one of the world’s most repressive states – the yellow represents solidarity; the green peace, tranquility and lush scenery; and the red courage and determination. It also looks a bit like a flag that was doing the rounds under Japanese occupation during World War Two. But the similiarity of the colour scheme to many West African flags has left observers scratching their heads.
Are Myanmar’s generals closet Rastafarians, or is their adoption of the pan-African colours associated with Ethiopian emperor Haile Salassie a tacit acknowledgement that half a century of army diktat has transformed the once-prosperous Asian state into an African-style basket-case? According to Transparency International, Myanmar is the world’s 176th most-corrupt nation, above only Somalia, and sits alongside four other African states in the bottom 10 of the global watchdog’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Decades of often arbitrary mismanagement by the military have trashed the economy, leaving the country with negligible growth, rampant inflation and a currency, the kyat, that is worthless outside its borders. Political repression, including shooting pro-democracy demonstrators and keeping opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under lock and key for 15 of the last 21 years, has also ensured a regime of stiff Western sanctions.
Yet Myanmar, like many African states, is rich in natural resources including petroleum, natural gas, timber, tin, zinc, copper and gems, and finds willing and unquestioning trading partners in the booming economies of China and India. Who knows — if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ever plucks up the courage to suspend or expel its black-sheep member, the generals may find a new home in the African Union?