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Bangladesh: Sovereign Or Subsidiary?

By Anu Muhammad

17 April, 2007

'World Capitalism (Bangladesh) Ltd', this was the title of an article that I wrote 17 years ago to theorize the location of Bangladesh in world capitalist system drawing parallel with the structural setting of multinationals around the world. Multinational Corporations are the institutional face of International monopoly capital, do their business around the world with their subsidiaries. Subsidiaries may have autonomy but that do work under global plan and strategy of the corporate centre or principal. What I wanted to show that the status of the peripheral countries like Bangladesh were gradually turning into mere subsidiaries in global capitalist system.

In the last 17 years global and local equations proceeded through simultaneous solving and confronting new variables. GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) agreement opened up the globe for the stronger Capital. Land, water, air, surface and underground resources located in the third world or peripheral countries have become increasing target of profit making venture. Invisible Capital and its visible fists do not accept the right of the people and the nations over their own resources, even over their own lives. Therefore the concept of common property is redundant, concept of human rights in real terms also was marginalized. Essence of the global lords' vision is to maximize profit by grabbing resources around the world. Media, experts, consultants, civil society, military, bureaucracy, and politicians have always been under projects of scrutiny, marginalizing or bribing, moulding and twisting.


In this setting strategically important geographical location is a curse of a weak country, so do its natural resources, if the ruling class does not represent its own people. For capital, countries like Bangladesh are not considered as country per se, it is just a region for investment. Sovereignty, therefore, is an ornament in the model. Neoclassical economics, favourite ideology of the corporates, believe that there is nothing exists to be called national or interest. Everything is individual. But who are these individuals? Nobody except capital can have any individuality when capital rules. In its hegemony it gives first lesson to everybody: look at the world through the eyes of capital, so much you see in that way, you may have a better future for yourself. All individuals become one; the capital, the corporation, everything is for sale. Long term is nothing, as Keynes gave the sermon: in the long run we are all dead. But what about our future generations? Forget them. What about people around me? Don't give a damn. Make money by selling everything, first your conscience!


Bangladesh had parliaments, had development programmes. However, these never interacted. Major economic decisions, those shape the direction of Bangladesh, have never been discussed in parliament. The last GATT round that effectively opened Bangladesh for global capital has been unknown to law makers and even bureaucrats till date. The production sharing contracts (PSCs) signed on country's natural resources, which took away resources from the people of Bangladesh to be handed over to multinational companies, were not discussed in the parliament. The contracts on coal and natural gas have been kept secret till today, even parliamentary standing committee did not dare insist to have a look at those. Bangladesh has eventually abandoned its development planning in order to give space to the so called poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP), a vicious commodity marketed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that was initiated to absolutize their control over policy making process of these countries. Ironically planning ministry still exists. The PRSP, that has become the 'economic constitution' of Bangladesh, was never brought in the parliament to be discussed. Global institutions, the World Bank- IMF-ADB etc, wrongly called donors, have gathered enough maturity for lobbying and getting their 'good guys' (ministers, bureaurocrats...) in policy making to legitimize everything they want. Their agenda is simple: privatize everything, Bank, Port, Gas, Coal, Water, Forest, Hospitals, Educational institutions to give business and authority to big companies.

The people are happy to see the present caretaker government express its commitment to uproot corruption, irregularities and injustice. It has brought some big looters under legal scrutiny and is working to make institutions work in some cases. Will it keep highly corrupt and disastrous deals like Phulbari coal project to continue then? Will it allow foreign companies, lobbying agencies and bigger plunderers to grab our own resources, to have command over our own territory after making the commitment to serve people's interest?


'Are we recolonised?'

A friend of mine, an activist of the country, asked me a few hours after President, Iajuddin Ahmed, proclaimed the state of emergency on 11 January 2007.

'We have been in the colonial power frame, how can we be re-colonised? What is the big deal?'

I replied reluctantly.

His enthusiasm did not recede. He said,

'But you see, I know global imperialism controls everything in our country. They protect and promote parties, groups those are convenient to retain their imperial control. Now they are not in supporting stage they are now trying to be in acting mode. Don't you find this is significantly different?'


My friend, who is an expert in International Relations rushed to my place and said,

'What is happening? Don't you think we are entering into a new phase of governance?'

'Why?' I asked curiously.

'Because it is a coup with difference. It is coup conceived by civil society on behalf of global corporate power represented by 'Big apa' (US ambassador) and allies implemented with the help of coercive power.' She tried to explain.

'But these global corporates have everything in their hands, both the allies have been competing with each other to offer more and more service they have been asking for. So, why they need a different set up?'

I tried to draw her attention to the ground reality.

Nevertheless, she insisted,

'But the old set up was not working and moreover don't you think they need more?'

'You see, all the thugs and plunderers who looted peoples money, and sold our country to the foreigners are on the run. I feel happy to see that', I continued with enthusiasm.

'But the policies of those goons continue. Moreover are you sure the bigger fish is not behind?'


My friend working with a network campaign against corporate and IFIs (World Bank and IMF) crime phoned me after one month, 'is your country turning into Afghanistan?'

'It cannot be' I said. 'We do not have Talibans like Afghanistan; moreover we have far more developed institutions to resist that kind of thing. We have people...'

She seemed annoyed and said, 'I know how Talibans grew and how they were used as excuses. I am talking about Hamid Karzai model. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq....'

'Why?' I was naive.

'Can't you understand that the ex officials from World Bank or global agencies or big businesspersons can be as good as an ex official from UNOCAL. They are of the same generic code.'

'We are looking for a difference.' I said.


'Who is Dr. Yunus'? Asked non-residential Bangladeshi friend from Sweden at the end of February.

I was surprised, however, replied, 'he won Nobel peace prize and made Bangladesh known to the world.'

He seemed impatient, said, 'I know that. But don't you see that he seems to behave like public relations officer or, if you put it in better way, a lobbyist of global corporate groups?'

'He loves business. He is highly successful in ideas, innovation in business indeed. He deserved Nobel Prize much before for that. He wants to turn everybody in the country a successful businessman or woman.'

'But not as entrepreneur but as nat boltu (nuts and bolts). I know he loves rhetoric too, as he says, " our youth are the most brilliant in the world", but he cannot rely on our youth to take charge of our own port or develop our own mineral resources. He finds only western big companies suitable for that. He says, "the hurdles on the way should be removed" we find he means to remove hurdles for global companies to grab our resources and sectors, he says " amrao pari [we can]", here amra means clique favouring big companies and pari means to give away own resources in favour of global plunderers like Nigeria or Argentina in the 1990s.'

'It seems that he is determined to play a leading role in governance.'


Global capital is in confrontation with people all over the world, among others, on three issues: (a) whether people and the country should own and have authority over their own lives and natural resources or global corporates should be allowed to take over; (b) Whether natural resources should be used or preserved for the maximum utilization for the development of the country or to be extracted in a big way to maximize profit of foreign big companies; and (c) whether resources will remain common property or turned into private property of corporates. Bangladesh needs to answer these too. People in general and Phulbari in particular and many experts opine in favour of utilizing resources for people as common property. Their verdict is simple: we need our limited resources badly for our own development; we cannot let that to be plundered by leaving disaster for us.


We need to free the country from corrupt and criminals; to sustain that we need to change the policy framework that create and recreate power of corrupts; to make that meaningful we need to make our country belong to our people. Whether Bangladesh will be reduced permanently to the status of a subsidiary company in world capitalist arrangement or will act as a sovereign nation depends now mostly on the rulers who are in the driving seat and have to make the choice. We are also living under US regime of global terror.

The crucial question therefore remains to be answered, whom our rulers would like to represent: people of this country or global corporate and terrorist power that lives on corrupts and criminals? This is an acid test indeed.


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