Whither Bangladesh ?
Since its independence, Bangladesh has surprised many with the progress it has achieved despite the manifold obstacles, calamities and problems it had to face. Looking ahead, the over 160 million people of Bangladesh, in particular the younger generation, are entitled to ask, what kind of nation do we want to be? How do we rekindle the spirit of 1971 in a way that contributes significantly to the progress of the country and fulfills the aspirations of the younger generation? Do we want to become the next Singapore or South Korea or are we content with the current rate of progress? These answers can only come after some deep introspection and a healthy discourse by all Bangladeshis, including those living abroad. There is no certainty that Bangladesh will become the next Singapore or South Korea in 20 or 30 years, but there is the guarantee that it can at least in large measure achieve its objective of meeting that goal. It is understandable that a country like Bangladesh, which still suffers from poverty, weak infrastructure, poor governance, corruption, over-population, rapid urbanisation, natural disasters and numerous other challenges, cannot be expected to become an overnight success. But we must also be mindful of the position Singapore and South Korea were in fifty years ago and where they are today. There was no magic formula that propelled them to their stellar political, economic and social success that they experience today. It took years of hard work, dedication, dynamism and desire to reach the point they have. There has been enormous progress made in the socio-economic development arena since Bangladesh’s independence nearly 42 years ago, moreover the fact remains that there is still a long way to go in terms of concrete progress. For instance, between 1980 and 2010, the UN Human Development Index (HDI) grew by 81%, making Bangladesh one of the fastest growing developing countries in the world. Putting that in perspective and taking into consideration devastating natural disasters, overpopulation, poor infrastructure and weak governance, the growth in HDI is an incredible achievement. This growth would not have been possible without the combined efforts of the government, the vast NGO sector and the assistance provided by our development partners. In a recent article, The Economist news magazine was glowing in its praise of Bangladesh’s socio-economic progress since its independence; it complimented Bangladesh on being able to lift millions of people out of poverty. It cited the remarkable progress in declining child and maternal mortality. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen remarked that Bangladesh had surpassed India in “every parameter of human development” due largely to gender-based equality. Despite enormous strides in the social and economic sphere, the central question still remains: where will Bangladesh be in 2023 or 2033? Are we likely to see a nation on the rise due to greater economic and social growth and improved governance? Are we likely to see a much better allocation of resources and better infrastructure, with improved connectivity providing more roads, highways, bridges, commuter trains and buses enabling hassle-free and quick access across the country? Will greater maturity and wisdom be exercised in politics? Will a younger generation choose to put aside party differences and ideologies for the real progress of the country ? One thing that has been contributing in remarkable economic development is the rising sense of competition to acquire wealth and affluence at any cost. It is no longer confined to a few but have been permeating fast among the entire population of the country. But unfortunately this competition is solely focused on the economic front. That is why while economic progress is clearly visible ,progress in the domain of other fields of life is on the retreat. Love, sympathy,fellow feeling, communal harmony, cooperation, morality, ethics, human dignity etc that are essential to achieve social cohesion and peace are seemingly under stresses and strains. Bangladeshis need a real economical freedom. It can be achieved if we have a fair and corruption free administration that will engineer the new generation and direct to a new path of economical development. We need new bloods into our politics . Politicians, the private sector, the armed forces, civil society, NGOs and those members of society who are able to play a direct or indirect role in making their country stronger and more dynamic, must pause for a moment and question their conscience, and ask themselves if they have that true sense of patriotism and selflessness to commit themselves to making things better for their country and its people. At the end of the day, there has to be a collective and whole-hearted wish to bring about change for the better. If that inherent desire is missing and the aim is to gain power and influence and make money unlawfully, Bangladesh will be unable to reach new heights of prosperity. It will continue to make slow progress and, in the end, it will fall even further behind other developing countries which have been successful in improving the quality of governance in their respective countries. There should be no reason why a country like Bangladesh, geographically situated at a strategic point which links South and Southeast Asia, cannot become a rising tiger economy. Government figures state that there are about 8 million Bangladeshi overseas workers in more than 155 countries, who remitted over $14 billion in 2012. The remittance figure has only grown higher and higher since that time. Bangladesh has also become one of the world’s leading exporters of ready-made garments, ranking second in the world after China. According to a recent McKinsey report, its apparel exports could cross $36 billion by 2020. Goldman Sachs branded Bangladesh as one of its Next 11 economies after the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. In addition, JP Morgan identified Bangladesh as a “Frontier Five” economy. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have rated Bangladesh, apart from India, ahead of all the other countries in South Asia. The first requirement for Bangladesh, however, should be to get its house in order. Positive thinking can beget positive results. Even if one person in a thousand can contribute constructively, that would have a tremendous impact in a country of over 160 million nationals. One must not underestimate the triumphant spirit of the people of Bangladesh or their capacity to be decent and upright citizens. In sum, the destiny of Bangladesh is in the hands of its people.