Sunday, 5 August 2012

Book review: Burma–a nation at the crossroads

Burma a nation at the crossroadsAfter more the five decades of dictatorship Burma has reached an historic juncture, with a gradual democratisation and liberalisation process giving a glimmer of hope where none previously existed.

Yet things are not so simple as the headlines often suggest: political uncertainty, ethnic tensions and external actors mean that the chances of genuine and lasting progress fluctuate by the day.

Given these constant changes there is a greater need than ever for a thorough and balanced analysis of the underlying issues. Enter Benedict Rogers, one of the UK’s most prominent Burma activists, with his third book: Burma – a nation at the crossroads. In this fundamentally important work Rogers draws upon his years of experience to examine how Burma got to this point, the prospects for further progress and the obstacles that lie in the way.

As any serious commentator must, Rogers extends his focus beyond Aung San San Suu Kyi, the mainstream opposition and the military-dominated government. Delving into Burma’s ethnic minority regions he discusses issues as diverse as the ingrained social prejudices against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya population, the widespread military rape in Kachin State and the crippling poverty blighting the Chin region.

And whilst clear in his support for the democracy movement, he successfully avoids the simplistic ‘good vs evil’ narrative that so often shapes reporting on Burmese politics. A Nation at the Crossroads pulls no punches in describing the barbarity and corruption of the country’s leaders, but refrains from blaming them for all of Burma’s problems, highlighting the failings amongst democrats and others in society, particularly on minority issues.

Perhaps most crucially of all Rogers clearly highlights how recent changes have not occurred in isolation, but are the direct and indirect results of various events and decisions over previous years. It is only by understanding these that activists and others following the situation in Burma can effectively make sense of what is now unfolding.

Through his previous works: A Land Without Evil (focussing on the situation in Karen State) and Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant (a biography of former dictator Than Shwe) Rogers has already made a significant contribution to academic commentary on Burma. A Nation at the Crossroads, may however be his most timely and essential piece yet.

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