In November 2020, Myanmar held its first general election since 2015. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi won majority of seats in both of the country’s legislative houses.
Less than two months later, on 1 February 2021, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) declared the results of the election to be illegitimate and launched a coup d'état that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. Around 400 elected members of parliament were placed under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw. A one-year state of emergency was declared, and internet and phone lines were cut off (these have been cut and restored numerous times since).
Numerous large civil resistance efforts have taken place (and are continuing to take place) in Myanmar in opposition to the coup, including acts of civil disobedience, labour strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, and mass public protests. Protests have become increasingly creative, such as large numbers of cars breaking down at the same time to block traffic. Although ZMF (our in-country partner) has itself intentionally steered clear of any political statement or involvement, we are aware that a number of staff and clients have been making their voices heard.
The coup has drawn widespread external condemnation from other countries and international organisations. The New Zealand government has suspended diplomatic ties with Myanmar and announced that its NZAID programme is not to be delivered "in conjunction with or for the benefit of" the military.
ADC does not take a formal position on the politics of the current crisis in Myanmar (both because our Charter requires us to be politically neutral and also so as not to put our project partner at risk). However, we have taken steps to ensure that we are operating consistently with the position taken by the NZ government. In particular, we have confirmed that ZMF has no direct relationship with the Tatmadaw (or any companies that are identified as owned the military) and that none of the business activities supported through ZMF’s microfinance have a military purpose.
These recent developments have had a significant impact on ZMF. While the team is safe, the ZMF office has been mostly closed since the beginning of February, with no new loan disbursements and collection of repayments severely curtailed. Travel to visit clients has been limited and bank closures, internet blackouts, curfews and transport stoppages have only compounded the disruption. We are, once again, in awe of the resilience, resourcefulness and selflessness of the ZMF team as they navigate this crisis.
However, the impact has been greatest on the local communities that ZMF serves. On top of the fear and uncertainty surrounding a return to military rule, there has been a huge disruption to small businesses and thus to incomes and livelihoods. Timing could scarcely be worse, coming on the back of a big COVID-19 lockdown in December. Prices for food, fuel and other basic commodities have spiked. As with previous economic shocks, we expect that women, ethnic minorities and the poor will be hit disproportionately hard.
While we are devastated by these recent events, we are confident that ZMF will be able to continue its important work under whatever “new normal” emerges in the weeks and months to come. Grassroots financial services of the kind provided by ZMF will be needed more than ever following these disruptions (even more so if there are sanctions and divestment to come). We are continuing to work closely with the team in Kalaymyo to provide what support we can.
We stand with our friends and the people of Myanmar. Kia kaha.