Bangladesh at 51: The Story of a Success-making

The vision of a nation formed from many different people bound together by a common love of freedom was staked out long before our lifetimes“- Trent Lott, former republican senator of the United States

Inspired by the fervent American nationalism, Trent Lott remarked that a country’s vision is already defined by their generation after generation, and the dream shared by their countless lifetimes. Bangladesh’s visible progress towards a country’s glorious making has been one such extraordinary example. Especially within a very small-time span, Bangladesh has walked brave steps toward its self-sufficiency, economic growth and international visibility. In celebrating its 51 years of war victory, Bangladesh remains an outstanding visionary nationalism’s perfect exemplar.

               Only two years back, the future of small countries in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was in great uncertainty. Powerful countries such as the United States, China, and European Union faced setbacks in their economic growth, production, supply-chain, and communication channels. However, Bangladesh exceptionally has recovered well amidst the Pandemic uncertainty and showed remarkable resilience in its rebound phase of manufacturing and service sectors industries. The growth rate of the country again returned to 6.9% in FY21. Even when South Asian countries like Sri Lanka have been experiencing a severe balance of payment crisis, Bangladesh’s low rate of commercial loans has made itself immune to any external or public debt distress.

               Bangladesh with its astounding economic growth story has been compared to as a new Asian tiger, a new addition to the league along with other East Asian countries. A strong political government has empowered the country’s manufacturing-led industrialization efficiently which has outperformed its two neighbors, India and Pakistan. This economic take-off did not happen out of the blue as it required strong incentives in industrial sectors, especially in the garments and apparel sectors after the 1970s. Knit and clothing- these two items contributed USD 44 billion of revenue to the country’s growth in FY21.

               Migrant workers with their hard-earned remittances contribute to Bangladesh’s economic story in a truly inspiring way. Despite the Russia-Ukraine conflict, declining trade in European countries, and the COVID-19 pandemic, expatriates kept sending their earnings back to their home, a perfect instance that the nation’s vision is not shared by only the government but also by its people. Despite a short-term setback, remittances are again started flowing now. Expatriates sent USD 21 billion and USD 24 billion in two fiscal years of 2021 and 2022; this uprising trend is a massive return after a gloomy outsourcing industry. The positive interests shown by Saudi Arabia and the lenient labor policy of Malaysia have surged new possibilities of further revenue by this medium.

               More importantly, Bangladesh set a prominent example of altruism in international politics by hosting millions of Rohingya refugees since 2017. Over 1.4 million Rohingya refugees now are staying in Kutupalong, Ukhia and other refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh along with other international organizations has been providing them food, shelter and basic amenities to survive off their miserable position. However, the top priority of this crisis remains not providing them shelter for their lifetime but to find out a feasible route to repatriation meaning sending them back to their home country- Myanmar. Bangladesh’s preference for peace and altruism is also best shown by its rising contribution in UN peacekeeping operations, making it as one of the ‘Champion’ countries. Bangladesh has engaged in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 different countries across five continents since 1988, with over 175,000 uniformed personnel. The country also maintained its position as the top Troop contributor for two consecutive years. Global engagement through UN peacekeeping operations represents the country’s normative character, commitment to global peace and security and an effective exercise of soft power to accrue a positive image in international relations.

               Behind the success story of Bangladesh’s great leap towards development, strong leadership role, economic privatization and pro-people diplomacy have contributed key incentives. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, serving consecutively for three tenures, has ranked as the 42nd powerful and influential women on the Forbes list. A champion of earth, Sheikh Hasina started her Awami-League led government by tackling multiple challenges like terrorism, lack of literacy, and poor infrastructure. However, consistent courage and vision of her have enabled the country to move forward its journey to economic development. Also in this period, there has been a profound rise of a privatized economy in market areas which enabled the country to engage at the international free-market at an unprecedented level, a shift from the country’s previous protectionist policy. This shows the traditional economic development model still worked for developing countries like Bangladesh. People-activating diplomacy is also playing a crucial role in garnering a country’s good image. A vibrant national culture with good taste in food, music and sports have facilitated its relations with different other countries, notably in this world cup where Bangladeshi fans’ enthusiasm is possibly opening up the Argentine embassy for the first time in the country.

               Sustaining this economic growth would require Bangladesh to actively achieve political growth also. Several challenges in this regard need serious scrutiny. Tight-grip of bureaucracy in policy-making level intertwined with bribery and corruption may hinder Bangladesh’s active economic journey. Apart from that looming terrorism, ongoing economic turmoil, soaring inflation, energy crisis, political violence, and skepticism over the next elections need to be addressed to maintain the stability achieved in last fifty years. Even though Bangladesh achieved remarkable success in Human Rights in the last decade, there are always room for improvement. Even the future economic journey may not be that smoother one given the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, long supply-chain disruption from COVID-19 pandemic and a looming global recession fear.

However, as long as the country is united on its vision and step-forwardness, Bangladesh conjoining its government and people will be able to strive towards growth and development amidst short-term setbacks.

Towkir Hossain
Towkir Hossain
Dhaka based Independent Researcher