THE TWO LADIES OF BANGLADESH
In the seventies, a fellow worked for me in Bandung, Indonesia with the almost impossible task of dressing up a bulk asphalt company for sale that had been mistakenly financed by my predecessors through an incompetent and corrupt Indonesian. During that period, we were both caught in Bandung, Indonesia amid rioters and gun fire in the streets as back in Jakarta one general was trying to overthrow another. Our transplant into Indonesia shared his experiences in Bangladesh with me which was previously known as East Pakistan. He gave me a vivid description of his period of household arrest in Dhaka as countless were killed all around him in 1971. The evolution of that bloody period was the creation of Bangladesh.
Years later, I found my way to Bangladesh to secure an offshore exploration license that ultimately resulted in the discovery of a large natural gas deposit. As we drove around the coastline, it was apparent that Bangladesh would have to have been unlucky not to have gas offshore as it was present onshore as shown below. Sadly, there were few other similar offshore deposits to meet the exponential growth in energy needs and satisfy the demands of the textile and clothing industry.
The first of the two ladies to serve as prime minister of Bangladesh is Khaleda Khanam Putul who served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from March 1991 to March 1996. Her alter ego and bitter rival, Sheikh Hasina, has served the bulk of the remaining period until present day as Khaleda has periodically been placed under house arrest by Sheikh Hasina. I happened to meet Sheikh Hasina very briefly in Edinburgh, Scotland where she and Tony Blair dedicated an office building built from profits made in Bangladesh. The two ladies are the only Prime Ministers the country have ever had and are shown below with Khaleda on the right and Sheikh Hasina on the left.
In case you are overcome by the pleasant smiles on each lady’s face, do not underestimate them as they are forceful individuals who have had a major impact on the development of Bangladesh. Recently, The Economist published an article entitled Bangladesh’s Economic Miracle is in Jeopardy as corrupt politics has become a bigger threat to the country than poverty. In terms of locations, Bangladesh, as the world’s eighth-most populous country, is most unfortunate to be squeezed on three sides by India and on the fourth by the Bay of Bengal. The country has evolved from famine and poverty to become a model in terms of female literacy with a higher GDP per capita than India and has experienced growth rates only slightly below China. Several years ago, Bangladesh was forced to absorb countless Rohingya refugees that were forced out of Myanmar which is now in the past.
The garment industry which was developing when I visited in the nineties is now going full throttle though that concentration in one industry may represent a future economic weakness. Clearly, Bangladesh has benefited from its status as an LDC (Least Developed Country) which provides tariff exemptions in Western markets. However, their overall economic progress may contribute to their future potential loss of LDC status which would open the door for countries such as Cambodia and Ethiopia to replace them. A hidden remaining resource is the vast number of Bangladeshis working in the Middle East and South-East Asia remitting money back home. The current GDP clearly puts them on the leader board compared to their neighbors.
Underlying the current strong economy are economic headwinds that could undermine their future. Bangladesh is not a member of any major trade pact. Moreover, Bangladesh’s business environment ranks 15th out of 17 Asian countries which does not bode well for future industries to come there. Business and politics seem to relate to politically connected borrowers failing to repay their loans and bureaucrats requiring fees to do most anything from getting off an unfair traffic fine to winning a government contract.
Further, the two ladies are equally capable of resorting to violence, if necessary, to achieve their power objectives. Sheikh Hasina is 75 which raises the question of succession for her party. Therefore, the outlook is clouded by both economic and political concerns which raise serious concerns regarding balance of payments in a world of rising fuel and food prices. As shown below, the bustling economy of today will need reform and a strong stimulus to create additional industrial growth beyond the textile industry.
Shop Our Latest Picks!
A Purchase That Means More.
Our products are from Asian elephant countries offered to fund programs for the families and their 300 elephants in Baan Ta Klang, northeast Thailand. Your support enables us to provide two native English-speaking teachers in the village as well as underwrite a portion of the veterinary services for the elephants.