I am confused… as a Myanmar youth living in current situations, I am very much confused about things going on in the country. Obviously, our country doesn’t have the best façade on world’s stage right now and it seems like we, as a citizen, cannot do anything about it.
Last year, I went to a regional competition which required me to represent the country, that meant I had to talk a lot about my country. It was such a discomfort that most of our conversations revolved around problems in Rakhine State, when I was raised in a tradition where confrontation is not our strong suit, or in a community where we get violent easily instead of agreeing to disagree. All I could do was trying to tell my new friends that Myanmar, with an immature semi-democracy system, had enough on its plate that Rakhine issue was not the only problem. Although I explained that we had on going civil wars in northern part of the country, power sharing with the military, 25% of non-elected military representatives in parliament, not having a clear economic policy, increasing social problems like murders on broad daylight and child rapes, and nationalists deliberately using religions to divide the communities, the conversations mostly ended up at problems at west of the country.
Representing your country requires you to be as diplomatic as possible and tell your side of the story despite how badly mainstream media portrays the image of your country. Although I keep defending our country with the most diplomatic responses, it exhausts me and consequently, I kind of lose faith in our leaders sometimes. It is a fact that the government could try being more transparent and getting more engaged with ordinary people.
In November 2015, I casted my first vote to the NLD because I believed in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. (One would not spend her life in house arrest unless she had a strong will to help rebuild this country.) But then things got very confusing since this Rakhine problem became so prominent in the news. Major news outlet like CNN and BBC report about our border issue with Bangladesh at least once a week. Expat friends condemned Myanmar in my face and I was lost for words to respond. Some people who called themselves nonpartisan publicly criticized the State Counselor and her administration for the decisions and actions they made. They pointed out that the State Counselor had been very tolerant when it came to the military. Some even portrayed people who believe in NLD like blind, moronic supporters. Although I thought that she might have some agendas for rebuilding relationship with the military, on-going fights in the country confused me.
Every doubt added up when her cabinet members and MPs in the house were not as productive as I expected. Maybe these unbiased academics and experts are not wrong after all. At the same time, even meme groups on Facebook frequently troll Yangon Chief Minister for his speeches and NLD MPs in the parliaments for proposing and discussing less important issues. It seems as if the whole government is a joke. When a part of me is still rooting for DASSK, another part of me doubts about her cabinet members, their capacity, skills, decisions, and their ability to deal with press and public.
PR rule #1: damage control can be made only by reaching out to the public and sharing your side of the story. The government has one ministry, one radio station, two television stations (one run by the military) and two state-owned papers to share their narratives but the problem I see here is not the lack of publicity but the right and effective contents for publicity. It is 2018 now. People do not watch some propaganda movies about soldiers and the military, or listen to songs that promote newly built dams or bridges like we used to in the 2000s. Those contents are irrelevant now. We look for fresh, innovative ideas and fun contents on TV or the internet.
In my opinion, Barack Obama has the most brilliant and fun PR strategy to build his image as a politician and president. As the first US President who had twitter account, he knows how to reach out to the Internet community, which means, videos and graphics to get people’s attention. Before 2016 US Election, Obama released one of the most appealing contents that I could barely forget. He tried untangling a twisted knot of earphone, counting dead characters on Game of Thrones to send the message that registering to vote in election is easier than the tasks he did. Of course, there is a thin chance that the President of United States comes up with this idea, but I believe that he has a brilliant PR team with creative ideas to get to the people. Myanmar government can do the same, is trying to do the same with uninteresting, outdated contents. They need communications specialists with raw ideas to change people’s perspectives toward the administration and its efforts.
Anyway, I will be joining an international program to represent Myanmar in three weeks’ time and it will be inevitable to talk these talks about Rakhine issues. All I can do is to be as diplomatic as possible, hear people’s opinions out, and share our narrative as much as I can. I am sure there are many young people who have the ability to tell these stories on behalf of the country. To speak for these crowd and for myself:
“Dear government officials, please make us easier to tell our side of the story by being transparent with your works. Let us know what you are doing so that we can retell those to our friends all over the globe. Hire effective PR specialists and produce relevant and engaging contents. Be innovative. The State Counselor has always been supportive to young crowd in the country so help her convince us that you all are working hard to change. Don’t be afraid of us because we are very critical; we just expect more from you.”