Basket-case to a growth-engine
From a fragile nation born in a background of tragedies to one of the fastest developing nations in the world, Bangladesh has come far in achieving its goal of becoming a land of stability, growth and opportunity
As Bangladesh celebrates its 49th year of liberation, it unfolds the story of a nation's transformation in almost five decades. The country at the time of independence from Pakistani occupation was termed as a 'basket-case'. Today, Bangladesh presents a different picture and it is amongst the fastest growing economy in the world. While global economic growth is stumbling, the future of the country is perceived to be promising. Bangladesh already elevated its status to become a middle-income country by 2021 and aspiring to become a developed country by 2040. This growth story of Bangladesh is attracting attention globally and studies are conducted to understand its transformation.
No single reason could be highlighted for Bangladesh's exponential growth. Bangladesh's growth story is the combined effort of its people and the government. The compelling factor for Bangladesh's success was its efforts in human development, largely lead by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) within the country. The country is home to some of the largest NGOs like the Grameen and BRAC. Bangladesh's human development growth earned accolade globally, primarily due to success in the fields of women empowerment and public health.
Manufacturing has been a contributing factor in the country's achievement. Bangladesh is a global leader in readymade garment manufacturing. Notably, the country's manufacturing is not limited to readymade garments only and its product base is fast diversifying. Over the years, there has been an increase in the production of electronic and engineering goods. Already, the country has made its mark in manufacturing of small ships and is exporting them across the world. India, a global economic giant and neighbour next door, is buying ships from Bangladesh also. The information technology industry is witnessing a boom and the country recorded to have the largest number of online entrepreneurs globally.
The government deserves some credit for supporting the NGOs and businesses. Bangladesh's political parties, though famous for their rivalries, have shown consistency in following the government policy of supporting the NGOs and businesses. Sustainable effort to maintain a flexible labour policy despite international pressure is a major indicator of the government's policy to support the industry. Cheap labour has been a major strength of Bangladesh and this made the country a lucrative place for various companies across the globe to invest in the country. The Government is planning to establish around a hundred special economic zones (SEZs) and investment in them will boost the economy further. Many top companies from India, the second-largest Bangladeshi trading partner, either have invested or are planning to establish manufacturing units in the country. Indian companies are likely to invest around $13 billion, making India one of the largest investors in the country.
The country faces certain challenges that demand timely attention to enable the country to reach its full potential. Systemic corruption impedes attaining its desired goal. The banking sector has been the biggest victim of corruption in the country and a large number of banks are struggling to keep themselves afloat. Off late, the government is taking measures in curbing corruption and conducting anti-corruption drives. Again, emphasis should be given on training man-power to plunge into the next level of growth in the country. Bangladesh is home to a large population of youth but they need appropriate training to meet the demand of the various industries that are being established in the country.
However, controlling the tide of the radicalisation in the country, which showed some signs of its presence in recent years, will be crucial. Despite Bangladesh being a Muslim majority country, its society is liberal and this has been considered an important factor for the country's success. There is fear that hard religiosity might lead to the rise of conservativism that might, in turn, hamper growth, primarily in the sphere of human development. The government have taken several measures in controlling the rise of religion-based militancy and its success has been phenomenal but there is a greater need to look into the influence of the radical groups in society.
Bangladesh's development is a tale of the perseverance of a nation in turning around its destiny. With Bangladesh's indomitable desire to prosper, the nation can move past its obstacles to attain the goal of Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal), the dream dreamt in 1971.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Views expressed are strictly personal