* The Rohingya Pipeline

 Traffickers’ jungle prison camps on the Thai-Malaysian border ‘operating for years’, say Rohingya migrants in Malaysia.

Susan Cunningham, Kuala Lumpur
Mizzima Weekly, August 20, 2015 

[This article appeared in Myanmar’s Mizzima Weekly print magazine in 2015 but not online. I decided to post it here more than a year later because the Rohingya homeland in northern Rakhine State is once again attracting international media coverage. Even Malaysian PM Najib wants to take advantage of the crisis. The spotlight won’t last long. There was another brief international moment in spring 2015 when the overloaded boats were drifting around the Andaman Sea and various governments vowed at a high-profile multinational meeting in Bangkok that the recent arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would be resettled in third countries within a year.  In the weeks after, though, I was unable to interest any international media outlets in why thousands of stateless Rohingya attempt to reach Malaysia each year or how they live illegally once they get there. Fortunately, Mizzima was interested.

As for that one-year deadline? Who knows or cares? When it was coming up, I emailed all the NGOs that had appeared to have some knowledge and interaction with Rohingya last year (not to confused with the much greater number that tweet relentlessly, often spreading baseless rumors, but don’t do anything else). Only one person replied. She said she heard that the Rohingya that had arrived in northern Sumatra last year had made their way across the Strait of Malacca to Malaysia, but had no details. This is interesting because the Acehnese were very welcoming to their fellow Muslims last year; my guess is that the Rohingya wanted to join relatives in Malaysia. The trial in Thailand of more than 100 people involved in trafficking Rohingya through Thailand drags on. I have no idea about proceedings of traffickers on the Malaysia end of the pipeline. I will be surprised if Justin Trudeau’s grandiose statements mean that Canada will begin to accept Rohingya for resettlement.]

While traffickers’ jungle prisons along the Thai-Malaysian border were first widely exposed by Reuter’s reports published almost two years ago, they have been well known to Rohingya in Myanmar and Malaysia for more than a decade.

Sultan Ahmed bin Ahmed Hussein, the new president of the Rohingya Society of Malaysia (RSM), arrived in Malaysia in 2012 by way of a border jungle prison. The 2001 Sittwe University graduate had been working in Rakhine State for GRET, a French non-governmental organization involved in agricultural development. After the 2012 communal riots, the French staff left the state and he was interrogated by the police. “They wanted money,” he recalled earlier this month. “Some of my friends were arrested. Some were shot and killed.”  After he left his home in Buthidaung to stay with friends in Maungdaw, he heard that back home “thirty police had descended on my house, so I knew I had to leave.”  His wife and four children are still in Myanmar (Burma).

Beginning with a Thai fishing boat, the cost and route of passage to Butterworth via Thailand were common knowledge in Maungdaw by then: 6,000 Malaysia ringgit (US$2,000) or the equivalent up front and another 6,000 ringgit to be paid into traffickers’ bank accounts once the passengers had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the Malaysian-Thai border. Continue reading

* Women Journalists In Myanmar Are Numerous But Still Stalled by Stereotypes

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima

12 November 2016

Women are strongly represented in Myanmar newsrooms but few reach decision-making levels, reflecting the many obstacles they face in advancing in their professions. In Yangon, professional opportunities are growing and society is receptive to women in many media occupations. For those working in the states and regions, however, options are severely limited by traditional attitudes about women’s roles and fears about personal safety.

The findings were included in a report presented last week in Yangon at the 5th Media Development Conference by Agneta Soderberg-Jacobson, a senior gender advisor with Sweden’s Fojo Media Institute.

The report, “Gender in the Myanmar Media Landscape”, is the product of research in the past year with 298 respondents working in Myanmar print, online and broadcast media. Fojo conducted the research by surveys and focus groups with support from International Media Support (IMS). The respondents, more than half of them women, were journalists, senior editors, media managers, and representatives of media organizations. They worked in Yangon, Kayin and Shan states, and the Sagaing region.

Mothers not wanted

Of the 2,000 accredited journalists in Myanmar today, 60% are women. However, even in Yangon, the majority hold low-ranking and mid-level positions in the media industry with men dominating decision making.  Continue reading

* As Myanmar looks to develop, a value-added revolution is needed in the countryside

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima News
24 September 2016

Agriculture must be at the forefront of Myanmar’s anti-poverty strategies not only because nearly 70% of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas: of the total number of poor people, 84% reside in the countryside. More than half the workforce is employed in agriculture, yet the majority of farmers own less than 10 acres of planting land and lack access to electricity and clean drinking water.

These stark statistics from UNDP highlight what could arguably be termed the elephant in the room – the need to upgrade Myanmar’s agricultural sector but ideally in a sustainable way.

One man understands the challenges particularly well. Tin Htut Oo, an agricultural economist, retired as director-general of agricultural planning in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) in 2009. He is today CEO of Agribusiness and Rural Development Consultants and chairman of the Agriculture Group of Yoma Strategic Holdings.

A former advisor to President Thein Sein, as the chairman of the National Economic & Social Advisory Council beginning in 2012, he led a working group that drafted a policy paper, entitled “From Rice Bowl to Food Basket,” outlining pathways for modernization of the country’s agricultural and food sector. Earlier this year, group members presented the proposals to key ministers and officials in the agriculture, commerce, and planning and finance ministries and to … MORE

* Myanmar: 45 Million Mobile Phones and the $19 3G Smartphone

True smartphone on sale in Yangon - Credit: Susan Cunningham

Only in Myanmar: the $19 3G smartphone

The phone in the above photo is a shiny new $19.44 smartphone. When I saw this for sale in small corner shop on Anawrahta and Pansodan streets in Yangon a few weeks ago, the 23,000 kyat (at 1,183 kyat/US$1) price included one SIM card too. As you can see, it’s 3G capable and has slots for two SIM cards.

Later I saw the same Thai brand, complete with Thai packaging, among the familiar and strange brands of phones being sold on sidewalk tables, like the ones in the photo below. Since bargaining comes with the territory and these phones aren’t being sold in a shop with overhead costs, do they cost even less than $19? Such a low price for a new phone must also affect the pricing of secondhand smartphones, regardless of brand.

Myanmar (Burma) has three mobile carriers: the government’s MPT and the two private carriers: Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor. Two years ago this month, Ooredoo introduced its service with 1,500 kyat SIM cards; MPT had dropped its Sim price from the equivalent of $300 to 1,500 kyat some months before that, but the private company turned on the advertising and promotion firehose and Telenor followed suit a few months later. A decade ago, SIM cards were in the $1,500 range. Nowadays, some Myanmar people have two phones, each with a different carrier, because coverage varies in different parts of the country. And since a SIM card costs less than $1.50, why not?

A few days before I came across the True phone, I had interviewed Jes Pedersen of the local tech community organization, Phandeeyar, for Digital News Asia. The astounding growth in the past two years of both mobile users and smartphone users was an inevitable topic. He said that today there are 45 million active SIM subscriptions, up from only 3 million or 4 million two years ago: “And sixty to eighty percent of those are smartphones.”

How is that possible when the average wage is $3 a day? Bear in mind that the recently released statistics from the 2014 census … MORE

* Omidyar grant jumpstarts for-profit accelerator in Myanmar

By Susan Cunningham
Digital News Asia | Aug 02, 2016

  • eBay founder’s US$2mil grant to Phandeeyar will also support social entrepreneurs
  • Myanmar SIM card subscriptions grew 10-fold in two years

A US$2-million grant from the Omidyar Network to Yangon tech community Phandeeyar will help support a for-profit accelerator programme to be launched in September.

After hearing pitches from short-listed candidates in mid-August, judges will select four to eight winning teams, according to Phandeeyar Accelerator director Jes Kaliebe Pedersen.

Each team will get US$25,000 in seed money, office space, and six months of coaching by some of Phandeeyar’s 30 mentors, who include executives and investors in Myanmar and abroad.
Continue reading

* Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed

BANGKOK–Two Chinese Muslims are set to go on trial in 2016 on murder charges stemming from last August’s bombing that killed 20 people and injured 125. Thai authorities don’t appear eager to probe into their accomplices or motives, however. Nor will they charge the two with terrorism, despite the web of foreigners implicated in the pipe bomb explosion at a popular Hindu-Buddhist shrine in central Bangkok.

The first man to be arrested, Bilal Mohammed, originally claiming to be a Turkish citizen called Adem Karadeg, was discovered August 29 in an apartment in a Muslim neighborhood of northeastern Bangkok. In the same apartment were several hundred forged Turkish passports and a cache of bomb-making components–suggesting that more attacks might have been planned.

Only in late September did Thai police claim that 27-year-old Bilal was the “backpack bomber” himself –the yellow t-shirted man who left his pack containing a 5-kilogram pipe bomb on a bench at Erawan Shrine shortly before the explosion. According to his lawyer, Bilal has now confessed to the crime; Bilal previously said he had arrived in Thailand–with the help of traffickers–four days after the bombing.       MORE

 

* Malaysia’s Anthony Tan Leads GrabTaxi in Regional App Race

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Forbes Asia as “Hailing Taxis, Building a Business”

When Anthony Tan graduated from Harvard Business School in 2011, he was expected to rejoin his two older brothers at the family firm, Tan Chong Motors. Instead, the youngest Tan, now 33, decided to strike out on his own with a mobile taxi app developed for a school business-plan contest. His mother was one of the original angel investors; his father, Tan Heng Chew (No. 16 on the richest Malaysians list), wasn’t. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, though. Anthony says he was inspired by his entrepreneurial grandfather, Tan Yuet Foh, who was a Kuala Lumpur taxi driver before building the multinational auto sales-and-assembly empire.

Tan’s GrabTaxi wasn’t the first mobile hailing app untethered to a specific taxi company. But the concept was novel in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru when Tan launched what was then called MyTeksi in June 2012. For passengers the free smartphone app enables them to hail a cab from any taxi company, regardless of their location, as well as see the identity of their driver, the route to their destination and the estimated fare. For taxi drivers the app not only earns them an extra fee (the equivalent of 28 U.S. cents for each fare in Kuala Lumpur), but also saves them from wasting gas and … MORE