What On Earth is Happening in Myanmar?

Myanmar (also called Burma) is a country in south-east Asia with a population of just over 50 million people.

On 1 February 2021 the Myanmar army, led by Min Aung Hlaing, arrested the country’s President (Win Myint), State Counsellor (Aung San Suu Kyi) and announced on national TV that they had taken control of the government for 1 year.

What really captured the world’s attention is the nationwide protests which erupted in the country opposing the coup and the extremely violent crackdown which the army implemented to try and crush the protests.

On the deadliest day of the protest so far police and the army killed 38 people bringing the total death toll to over 120.

To get an understanding of the current events in Myanmar, let’s have a look at the history of this troubled country.

Fortunately, the history of Myanmar can be broken down into 5 key stages.

1. British colonial rule (1824 – 1948)

Under British colonial rule the country was called British Burma and Rangoon was established as the capital city.

2. Independence (1948 – 1962)

On 4 January 1948 the country became an independent republic and its name was changed to the Union of Burma.

3. Military rule (1962–2011)

On 2 March 1962 the military led by General Ne Win staged a coup d’état and took control of the country. During this time the military government took control of almost all aspects of society and severely restricted civil liberties. During this time Myanmar also became one of the poorest countries in the world.

In 1989 Aung San Suu Kyi, a leading opposition figure was placed under house arrested.

4. Partial democratic rule (2015 – 2021)

A general election was held for the first time in 2015 and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide. Htin Kyaw was elected as the country’s first non-military president and Aung San Suu Kyi became State Counsellor, a position similar to Prime Minister and recognized as the head of government.

Cracks started to show in this new political set up in 2017 when the military under the leadership of Min Aung Hlaing conducted a brutal military assault on the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group in Myanmar who have been oppressed for many years but 2017 was the worst incident. Over 6500 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the attacks, between August – September 2017. Entire villages were burnt to the ground, women were raped and over 700 000 Rohingya people had to flee to Bangladesh.

The world looked to Aung San Suu Kyi for answers but she was powerless to stop the military’s actions. She even publicly downplayed the military’s actions. It soon became clear that Aung San Suu Kyi and her government were only ceremonial and the military was still fully in control.

In 2020 Myanmar held another general election and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won by an even bigger margin than they had done in 2015. Immediately the military rulers disputed the results and claimed there were voting irregularities.

5. Military rule (February 2021 – Today)

The army, fearing their power in parliament was slipping away which could have meant accountability for the 2017 genocide against the Rohingya people and other horrific crimes, decided to stage a coup on 1 February 2021.

What they might not have anticipated is the local and international anger which their actions would cause.

United States President Joe Biden has called on the military to restore civilian rule but so far Min Aung Hlaing is showing no signs of giving up his blood thirsty quest for power. The protests and killings continue on the streets of Myanmar.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated when there are new developments.

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