50 Years of Bangladesh: From a ‘Basket Case’ to an Economic Power


Through nine-months long War with West Pakistan (present Pakistan), Bangladesh became an independent nation in the world system in 1971. At the time of birth, the country was identified as ‘basket case’, ‘the test case of development’ etc while many questioned about the viability of the state. Faaland& Parkinson (1977, p.197) concludes their book by arguing that ‘If development can be made to succeed in Bangladesh, there can be little doubt that it can be made to succeed anywhere else’.Bangladesh was the world’s second lowest per capita income country (World Bank, 2019).March 26, 2021 marked the 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence. And after 50 years, Bangladesh has become the text-book case of development, success and prosperity.

It is argued that “That Bangladesh—that notorious basket case, with its hungry millions, that byword of bywords—has dragged so much of its population out of poverty is surely proof the development experiment works. If Bangladesh can do it, anywhere can” (Hossain, 2017, p.3). Against such a backdrop, the golden jubilee independence of Bangladesh becomes a matter of celebration and thus reflects on the progress and prospects.

It is important to look at some statistics between 1971 and 2021. For instance, the GDP was US$8 billion in 1971 which increased to US$ 320 billion in 2021, per capita increased tremendously from US$ 93 to over US$ 2000, life expectancy increased from 47 years to 73 years, the poverty rate decreased from 82 per cent to 20 per cent (pre-covid 19).From an aid-dependent country, Bangladesh is now a trade-dependent country.

Bangladesh is one of the key leaders in the ready-made garments sector in the world. Furthermore, the contribution of Bangladesh in the world peace and security through supplying troops in the UN Peacekeeping missions is a matter of celebration for the country. Despite facing some challenges, Bangladesh showed the world genuine humanity through giving shelter to the helpless Rohingyas.

The political stability in Bangladesh since 2009, the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina (2009-present), the ready-made garments sector, remittance, and the hard-work of the farmers, labourers and all other classes of people played leading role in the continued development of the country. One can also identify the massive drive for the infrastructural development particularly in communication and energy sector under Sheikh Hasina regime (2009-present) which contributed to the sustainable economic growth over the last decade or so.

There are also some challenges that the country needs to focus on in the coming decades. More than 165 million people live in 1, 47, 570 sq. km area which makes Bangladesh one of the densely populated countries in the world. There is also emerging scarcities of fresh water, arable land, and forests. In addition, the prolongation of the Rohingya refugee repatriation will create problems for Bangladesh.

Against such a context, writing on the Rohingya refugee repatriation issue in the regional and global media regularly becomes crucial for Bangladesh at the moment. In the United National General Assembly, Myanmar spread fabricated and false information that Bangladesh is sponsoring the Rohingya ‘terrorists’. Only to avoid their responsibility to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation, Myanmar is spreading the propaganda against Bangladesh. On a regular basis, writing specially on the role of China, India, Russia, Japan, EU, ASEAN, and the United Nations becomes vital in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation. The international community should not forget about the Rohingya refugee repatriation and thus take concrete measures in the facilitation of the Rohingya refugee repatriation successfully.

For the continuation of the mega-development projects, Bangladesh requires cooperation from its major development partners. Since Bangladesh is a peaceful country which focuses on regional and global cooperation, justice, and well-being for all, the international community should expand its cooperation, friendship and partnership with Bangladesh and its people.

Finally, Bangladesh needs to focus on political stability, democratic values and building a just society for the continued progress and development. In addition, building a knowledge-based society and thus invests heavily in the production and dissemination of knowledgebecomes essential. It is also imperative for Bangladesh to create a pool of experts on the critical issue areas. For instance, Bangladesh needs to focus on developing expertise on blue economy diplomacy, hydro-diplomacy, on India, China, Myanmar, Middle East, East Asia, and Europe. The article also argues that developing expertise on the Bay of Bengal region and economic diplomacy is urgent for Bangladesh.

Shariful Islam
Shariful Islam
Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]ru.ac.bd


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