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Myanmar Update June 2023

It’s always nice to emphasize the good news. So, I’m repeating the sequence in my 13 November 2022 Myanmar Update by focusing first on Parami University and then addressing the civil war.

Parami University Has Completed Its First Academic Year

For those new to the subject, Parami University is a startup liberal arts college serving students in Myanmar/Burma. I became a member of its inaugural Board of Trustees in September 2020. Less than six months later our plans were shattered by the 1 February 2021 military coup.

Our founder/president, Dr. Kyaw Moe Tun, had to flee for his life after the coup. With the help of the US embassies in Burma and Thailand, he was able to come to the USA. He is now settled in NY City. When the coup happened, we were three weeks away from breaking ground for a residential campus serving 600 students. Instead of giving up, we reinvented Parami as an online, degree-granting higher education institution licensed in Washington DC.

Our first Freshman class of 57 students has just completed its first academic year, with only three dropouts—because of the state of civil war in Burma, not for academic reasons. We are now admitting our second Freshman class with a target size of around 100 students.

Parami is doing a lot more to educate young women and men in Burma:

  • It created a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)—in the Burmese language—that has 600 students enrolled in its third round.

  • It is teaching four English-language courses for the American Center next to the US Embassy in Yangon that has graduated more than 1000 students.

  • It is offering a suite of Continuing Education courses with an enrollment of 100 per semester.

  • It is offering a set of Google Professional Certificate courses with 500 students currently enrolled.

There is much more to this story, of course. Basically, it’s a minor miracle that Parami has been able to finish a full academic year of operation within less than a year of getting its license. On top of that, to do so much more beyond its undergraduate program. And furthermore, to head into its second year of operation from a strong financial position and with a top-rate academic and administrative team.

To get more into the story, start with Parami’s website:

Then sign up for up for its biweekly newsletter from the box on its Home page. If that’s not enough, I can send you Parami’s annual report for calendar year 2022.

Like all other startups, Parami needs more “venture capital” to move to the next level. This week Parami’s Board of Trustees decided to launch a major capital campaign. We will be hosting a series of events over the coming year to tell the Parami story in graphic and personal detail. I hope my readers can help us connect with some major donors.

What’s it all about? Why is it worth doing?

The 55 million people living in Burma have been left behind as the other Southeast Asian countries have registered impressive economic growth in the decades since World War II. From 2010 to 2020, Burma opened up politically and economically and appeared to be on the way to a bright future. The February 2021 coup has reversed the economic gains of that decade and has fueled the opposition of a generation of young women and men who decided they would rather die than live under another repressive military regime.

The struggle to end military rule may need to continue for ten years or more before it can declare victory. Parami is working to educate the leaders of Burma for that future year when a civilian government can implement policies enabling the country to be a proud and welcome member of the ASEAN community.

The Civil War

On the battlefield, the pattern prevailing last November does not appear to have changed significantly. The opposition forces seem to be gaining control bit-by-bit over rural areas across the country while the military and its supporters consolidate in the urban areas. The opposition forces are somewhat better organized than before and their supply of weapons has improved marginally. The military is still hesitating to launch ground operations, relying heavily on air force attacks against opposition bases but also launching random attacks on opposition-controlled communities.

The Myanmar economy continues to sink at an alarming pace. Day-to-day survival for the civilian population is possible because of experience over decades of similar deprivation since the military coup in 1962. Especially lamentable is the neglect of the education sector, with most teachers on strike and most students boycotting the state universities

Cyclone Mocha struck the Myanmar coast near the Bangladesh border in mid-May with winds of 195mph. While the loss of life was vastly smaller than was the case with Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the death and destruction were still great across a swath of Rakhine State and into Chin State. Despite pleas from the humanitarian community, the military regime has severely restricted the flow of relief supplies.

Politically, the efforts of Indonesia, as chair of the ASEAN Community in 2023, have not borne fruit. ASEAN continues to deny to the military junta participation in Summit meetings, but no progress has been made in implementing the “Five Point Consensus” adopted in 2021 for ending the fighting. Individual ASEAN members have called for suspending Myanmar’s membership and recognizing the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), but the 10-member organization is far from the consensus required to do either one. Another discouraging sign is the departure this month of the UN’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer at the end of her one-year term without having any meaningful engagement (according to most reports) with the military junta. The UN Secretary General, under the circumstances, may not appoint a successor.

The line-up of international support for the military and the opposition has changed very little. The recent election in Thailand produced a winner who has been critical of the military junta, but he may be denied the ability to form a government by the Thai military. China continues to engage with both the military and the opposition. India is maintaining good relations with the military junta despite domestic critics who argue that India has more to gain by supporting the opposition. Russia has been providing weapons to the junta, but recent reports claim that Russia has been repurchasing some items needed to pursue its attack on Ukraine.

No reputable analysts are predicting an end to the fighting before the end of 2023. A good number see it continuing for another ten or twenty years, with neither side suffering enough to sue for peace. Political weakness on the opposition side remains the crucial challenge. The NUG does not have the credibility required to achieve recognition by the G7 countries, for example. The Bamar majority and the ethnic minorities are far from an agreement on how to govern the country when the military is defeated.

The best news out of Burma since my last update was the release from jail, after 650 days, of Sean Turnell on November 17. He is the Australian economist serving as Aung San Suu Kyi’s economic advisor, arrested a few days after the coup. He seems to have emerged from this experience in astonishingly good health and spirits. As I write this Update, he is in the midst of a 2-week visit to the USA including stops in New York City, Washington DC, and Madison WI.

For readers who want to know more, here are four recent reports of above-average interest:


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