Myanmar’s Multidimensional Economic Crisis

September 12th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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The Myanmar junta’s cruel disregard for the people of Myanmar and their greed for power and money is fueling an economic and food crisis that adds to the extreme, direct forms of violence that people face each day.

The ruination of Myanmar’s economy in the hands of the junta is exemplified by soaring commodity prices, unfair exchange rate controls, rising inflation, and the recording last week of a record low of the value of the Myanmar Kyat. Thus, in addition to cruel violence inflicted by the junta, people are facing huge difficulties in making ends meet. Yet it is not simply incompetence that is making life almost unbearable for the people of Myanmar, it is the greed, corruption and cronyism of the junta which is enriching itself at the expense of people’s ability to put food on their plates. Yet, the junta’s intention to ensure that the misery inflicted on the people of Myanmar through economic hardship would make life so precarious that people would be willing to end the resistance and accept their rule so as to feed themselves has come a cropper against a defiant and effective Revolution.

The value of the Myanmar Kyat hit a record low of 4,200 to the US dollar on 31st of August, despite the ‘official’ rate of 2,100 set by the junta-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM). The CBM was one of the first targets upon the military’s coup attempt, arresting and imprisoning CBM deputy director, Bo Bo Nge, who is now facing trumped-up corruption charges. It is clear that the junta wanted to control foreign reserves, monetary policy, and the financial sector, reflecting one of their first priorities – trying to consolidate their economic position. Subsequently they have attempted to run monetary policy through appointing military personnel to the CBM, who do the bidding of the top generals, resulting in a series of cack-handed and deeply damaging policies. One of which was the order for foreign currency to be converted to Myanmar Kyat within one day of receipt at the artificially lowered official exchange rate. This was an attempt by the junta to control any foreign currency coming into the country. Selfish attempts by foreign governments including Japan and Singapore to have their companies exempted from this policy – although it should be noted, not attempts to exempt ordinary Myanmar people – gave them a brief reprieve, but this has also been overturned. This is not the only time Japan has discreetly strengthened economic ties with the junta, with the state body, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency previously sending economic experts to meet with the junta to discuss cooperation on development projects.

The significant depreciation of the Kyat, which while hitting a record low last week but has actually been steadily increasing in recent months, has severely impacted local businesses which rely on imports, massively pushing up their running costs. According to Frontier Myanmar’s weekly newsletter which is based on local reporting, the Deputy Director of the CBM, without irony, blamed small traders for the depreciation of the Kyat for using unofficial exchange rates, although junta-controlled, Myanmar National Airlines and crony business, KBZ, were both using higher-than-official exchange rates.

This reflects a broader approach of the junta, in which its’ allies in the business world are favored and those perceived to be friendly with the previous, National League for Democracy-led government, are either marginalized or actively persecuted. For example, an investigation by Myanmar Now, shows that companies of children of two of the junta’s top generals have received lucrative tenders from Naypyidaw for construction and other projects. This is part of a broader trend of corruption and nepotism in which the generals, their families, and their friends enrich themselves while the rest of the country suffers.

This suffering is in the form of people not being able to afford fuel, food, or other daily necessities in life. People are skipping meals, unable to buy medicine, or provide for their families, as this snapshot of everyday stories of people from Mohinga Matters, demonstrates. Furthermore, the rising inflation and depreciating value of the Kyat, means that farmers, many of whom are already in debt, are unable to afford the same amount of fertilizer, which has doubled in cost, and pesticide, which has tripled. This in turn means that yields are going to be lower, demand higher, and prices pushed even further up. Already, domestic rice prices have doubled since the beginning of the coup attempt. In another example of corruption, palm oil, which is imported and used for cooking, has tripled in price, yet while the junta ‘capped’ the price, in reality, only those close to the military can buy at the lowered price.

In Sagaing Region, one of the most significant rice-growing regions of the country, the ferocity of junta violence against a mostly rural population, including the burning of homes and whole villages, widespread murder and torture, means that even when farmers can afford to grow their rice paddy, they would be putting their lives in danger to do so. This food poverty and hunger is not going to be solved by a quick-fix, and the junta’s disastrous economic policy and disregard for the people of Myanmar is going to have severe long-term impacts on food insecurity and therefore hunger and malnutrition.

The Myanmar junta’s cruel disregard for the people of Myanmar and their greed for power and money is fueling an economic and food crisis that adds to the extreme, direct forms of violence that people face each day. The years of economic liberalization during the period between 2011 and 2021 served to further enrich the Myanmar military and its cronies, as they benefited from already having significant stakes in many sectors of the economy as international investment began to flow and Myanmar integrated into global markets. Their misguided coup attempt, however, is harming these economic interests, and their desperation to control the economy is reflective of their vulnerable position. Without the foreign reserves and the cash flowing directly to the junta and its cronies, they cannot buy the weapons they are using against the people of Myanmar. They cannot buy the loyalty of officers, or feed or pay the rank-and-file soldiers. Not only are they trying to shore up foreign currency entering the country and controlling monetary policy, but the junta is deepening economic ties with Russia, another international pariah, as evidenced by Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Russia for the Eastern Economic Forum. This dangerous liaison between the repressive dictatorship of Putin and Min Aung Hlaing’s band of murderous terrorists only harms the people of both countries, with the cash from weapons purchases fueling Russia’s war against Ukraine, and those very weapons being used against the people of Myanmar.

It is here where the international community can have an impact, by doing all it can to stop the flow of cash to the murderous junta. Targeted economic and financial sanctions against junta controlled entities and crony businesses, including on the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), would significantly weaken their ability to function. Tired arguments about such policies having a deleterious impact on the people of Myanmar elides the fact that it is the junta itself that is making the economic and livelihood conditions for the country unbearable.

Furthermore, a new Myanmar, with the military’s economic and political power dismantled, would mean an opportunity to create a new model of development for the country. This should go beyond the precarity, exploitation and destruction of natural resources exemplified in the neoliberal inequality of the NLD-led government, and beyond the sheer corruption and self-serving greed of the junta, its chief Min Aung Hlaing, and previous military regimes, to one that is sustainable, fair and democratic. Yet in order to get to that point, the cash must be stopped, the junta weakened, and the military completely stripped of its economic power, alongside its political and military power.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Commission of Inquiry for Myanmar holds its first session

By International Labour Organization

Response from Eight Major Shareholders Regarding Y Complex Project in Myanmar

By Mekong Watch, Friends of the Earth Japan, Justice For Myanmar, Network Against Japan Arms Trade, ayus:Network of Buddhists Volunteers on International Cooperation, Japan International Volunteer Center, Pacific Asia Resource Center and Human Rights Now

Response to Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis must be localized

By Progressive Voice

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ လူသားချင်း စာနာထောက်ထားမှုဆိုင်ရာ အကျပ်အတည်း တုံ့ပြန်ဖြေရှင်းမှုများသည် ဒေသခံဦးဆောင်မှုကို ဗဟိုပြုရမည်

By Progressive Voice

WLB and APWLD statement in support of the 9 women human rights defenders on death row in Burma

By Women’s League of Burma and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development



Setting the Tinderbox Alight — The Humanitarian Crisis in Myanmar’s Dry Zone

By Progressive Voice

ခြောက်သွေ့ဒေသ မီးတိုက်ခံရခြင်း – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအပူပိုင်းဒေသရှိ လူသားချင်းစာနာထောက်ထားမှုဆိုင်ရာ အကျပ်အတည်း

By Progressive Voice

Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 21 | 2 September 2022

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan 2022 Mid-Year Report (1 January to June 30)

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”