BANGLADESH: THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY, 1991-2009
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ABOUT BANGLADESH

People in many parts of the [western] world still think that Bangladesh is in India and whenever I hear that, I get frustrated and saddened. Bangladesh is considered to be a third world country and the etymology of the term 'third world' is quite interesting. It was coined by a French economist and demographer named Alfred Sauvy,who considered these developing countries in South Asia, Latin America and Africa to be like the Third Estate in France.


Bangladesh is one of the poorest and densely populated countries in the world. It is located in South Asia and is bordered by India from three sides, Burma from the southeast corner and the Bay of Bengal from the south. As we studied in our world politics class, political realism which “emphasizes the role of the nation-state and makes a broad assumption that all nation-states are motivated by national interests, or, at best, national interests disguised as moral concerns” comes into play. In 1952, the Language Movement took place, and the purpose was to make Bengali one of the official languages in East Pakistan. They succeeded and in 2000, UNESCO declared 21 February Inernational Mother Language Day to recognize the objective of the Language Movement and promote the ethno-linguistic rights of all citizens. Next, the idea of political realism is highlighted in the 1971 Liberation War in which was fought to gain independence and establish Bangladesh as a sovereign nation.

top: Bangladesh Countryside

The path to achieving democracy in Bangladesh has not been a smooth ride. Starting from 1991, the hot seat, i.e. the prime ministry has been going back and forth in a perpetual cycle between two leaders, Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina. Between 11 January 2007 and 17 December 2008, the most current obstacle to democracy was laid out in the form of an emergency. During this period, the main objective of the caretaker government was to carry out a ‘cleansing process’. In order to combat the plague of corruption, numerous political leaders were arrested on various and diverse charges without going to court since these actions are allowed during an emergency. People welcomed the caretaker government backed by the army with open arms and their actions and decisions were applauded by most members of the upper and middle classes and many members of the lower classes. However, at the end of two years, one must ask, to what extent were the cases followed up in court and also how have these ‘accomplishments’ benefited the political process. The same two leaders who were shamelessly arrested in the second half of 2007 on grounds of corruption ran for the election in December last year, and one was even elected as Prime Minister. Unlike the U.S. and many other countries, an individual is allowed to run for election for more than two terms and it can be argued whether it is high time for Bangladesh to make some changes in its constitution.

I think that the ‘dependency theory’ which explains a country’s underdevelopment is quite applicable to a country like Bangladesh. As highlighted by our world politics professor, Vincent Ferraro, “dependency theory attempts to explain the present underdeveloped state of many nations in the world by examining the patterns of interactions among nations and by arguing that inequality among nations is an intrinsic part of those interactions.” As mentioned above, Bangladesh’s GDP has risen significantly over the past few years, however, social indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, infant mortality and education paint a bleak picture. One key characteristic of dependent states which is clearly visible is the increased volume of value-added imports. I am truly shocked when I go to the supermarkets and see how much we love the Kellogg cereals and Nestle chocolates. It is true that globalization has benefited countries and has improved the balance of payments considerably, but it is also one of the top reasons which developing countries still rely on the dominant countries and hence remain underdeveloped. Another factor to consider is the extraction of the resources by the multinational organizations which causes the poor countries to remain poor. The idea behind the dependency theory also fits in at the national level. Cities full of resources and opportunities also known as metropoles draw in people from the less developed regions called satellites causing them to rot further. This is one of the main reasons why there is so much inequality in Bangladesh. Income distribution between the upper and lower members of the society is so uneven that when one visits some parts of Dhaka, they will not believe that they are in one the poorest countries in the world.

The poverty, hunger and backwardness of Bangladesh is often published in the newspapers however it is also important to recognize the socio-economic development that has taken place in the last fifteen years. Bangladesh’s Garments and Textile Industry play a dominant role in poverty alleviation and socio-economic transformation. The Ready-Made Garments (RMG) sector is the biggest earner of foreign currency and one of the largest contributors to GDP. The Pharmaceutical Industry in Bangladesh is significantly picking up the pace and competing in the global markets among emerging giants including China and India. Bangladesh has one of the lowest records of consumption of drugs per capita in the world, which in the past has been caused by the lack in affordability of drugs by the general public and improper healthcare. However, the industry has been a key contributor to the Bangladesh economy amongst other robust sectors such as the RMG. In recent years, the ICT sector has also flourished; cellular phones have flooded the country and internet is also available almost nationwide in telephones as well as computers using more efficient mediums such as fiber optics. This easy flow of information is likely to disseminate knowledge and bring a new meaning to learning and living in a developing country such as Bangladesh.


Some of the key information from the CIA factbook is listed below:
Area: 144,000 sq km
Population: 156,050,883 (July 2009 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 1.292% (2009 est.)
Ethnic groups: Bengali 98%, other 2% (includes tribal groups, non-Bengali Muslims) (1998)
Religions: Muslim 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1% (1998)
Languages: Bangla (official, also known as Bengali), English
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: name: Dhaka
geographic coordinates: 23 43 N, 90 24 E
time difference: UTC+6 (11 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: 6 divisions; Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet
GDP (purchasing power parity): $224 billion (2008 est.)
$213.6 billion (2007)
$201.1 billion (2006)
GDP - real growth rate: 4.9% (2008 est.)
6.2% (2007 est.)
6.4% (2006 est.)
Unemployment rate: 2.5% (includes underemployment) (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 9.4% (2008 est.)

top: Dhaka City