At times I wonder why Bangladesh suffers from such a negative image. Why is it that despite having some of the best social indicators in South Asia, we are still considered to be backwards, relative to progressive societies? Difficult as it may be to digest, Bangladesh is still considered as a place where “something is wrong,” affecting our overall economic progress as well as clouding our future.
Bangladesh is rarely seen in global news, and when it is seen, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Bangladesh has a healthy GDP growth rate, a young workforce with a fighting spirit, and a good social index. A lot of positive changes have been brought about, attributed to micro-credit and other NGO activities, such as empowering the underprivileged, the marginalised, and women, like never before. Women here enjoy many more liberties than most predominantly Islamic countries.
True, we have violent manifestations of political rivalry, but that is true for most parts of the world. We have hartals and strikes, but so do many other countries. But they are never singled-out. Our hartals, as unwelcome as they are, don’t lead to complete halts. Increasingly, businesses are adjusting to hartals and are managing their activities accordingly.
Bangladesh has not been able to manage her PR right. The media is a strong vehicle for enhancing a country’s image and internal conduct. That has not been harnessed right. And the western media primarily focuses on our negative issues. Yet, anything good that is achieved, anything that can unite the nation both at home and abroad, is rarely mentioned.
Bangladesh does not equate to poverty, hunger, hartal, rape, murder, corruption, and natural calamities. Bangladesh also means friendly people, a tolerant community, hardworking individuals, and a resilient, courageous state with a growing GDP.
Why then did Time magazine allege that Bangladesh is the next hotbed for terrorists? As baseless as such assumptions may be, one can’t help but wonder how they are conjured up in the first place.
We need to glorify our achievements in being the largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping force, to communicate to the world about our bid in eliminating terrorism. If the foreign media is not going to report on our positives, that job falls on us. A World Bank analysis found that private media tends to be more effective.
Look at Bangladesh in comparison to many other developing nations. The investment environment in Bangladesh has been criticized time and again as being deplorable, to say the least — our infrastructure is apparently not conducive for investment.
There are many other nations which don’t have that much better of an infrastructure than ours, their socio-political condition is nothing to write home about, and their per capita income is in the same range as ours.
On the other hand, we could be perceived in a more positive light, if our political image had more depth and unity. We can’t even come up with basic consensus on national issues. If we look elsewhere around the world, political rivalry takes a backseat when it comes to upholding the national interest.
Our relationship with neighboring countries could be better. Neighborly disputes are a part of life, but the SAARC forum can serve as a strong relationship-building medium in a world where increased co-operation has become imperative for survival.
Our business houses need to run independent of politics and the government. Businesses have their own responsibilities. Ethics has to be a rule for business, not an exception. Taxes need to be paid, and the government has to ensure that taxes are collected. CSR needs to be an integral part of the business community.
It saddens me to admit this, but project implementation is in dire straits here, and we see complaints coming from different countries on either non-performance or of slow project implementation.
The gestation period of approval to execution is longer than necessary. This period has to be reduced to maximise the benefits of the projects. In a globalized economy, we just cannot afford to fall behind in any regard.
Bangalis are by nature very passionate, and very informal even in their professional lives, whereas the world is increasingly becoming a dispassionate place. Professionalism is a way of life today, and there is no denying it.
We need to integrate it into our lives. Our fundamentals are weak on account of a dependence on excessive emotions and a false sense of pride without even understanding why we should be proud. Dignity of labour is low here, and people are often appreciated for all the wrong reasons.
We have to fight for our own image, our own identity. How much longer do you want to be benchmarked for all that is wrong? Let’s all work together to become the point of reference for all that is right. Democracy, governance, accountability, reform, and development — they should all carry the same meaning here.
Mamun Rashid is a business professor and financial sector entrepreneur.
This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune, a leading publication of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original.