Bangladesh fights on for a better future
The year 2019 has been one of landmark events, many of which unfortunately denote severe regression, rather than progress for Bangladesh.
Supporters sighed in relief when the national election resulted in the incumbent party coming back to power to deliver on its promise of development.
With over 96 out of every 100 voters deciding to give their mandate to the incumbent party, the unprecedented win of the Awami League led Grand Alliance provided it with all the legitimacy it needed to work uninterrupted to realize many of its grand ambitions for the country.
But Prime Minister Hasina was challenged with increasingly harder problems as the year progressed. After her much praised handling of the Rohingya crisis, the Hasina government was forced to suffer a failed Rohingya repatriation because of Naypyitaw’s lack of political will. Unfortunately for Hasina, domestic issues also kept flaring up throughout the year.
The devastating fire at Chowk Bazar early into the year once again exposed Bangladesh’s poor fire safety maintenance. The FR Tower fire later in the year further highlighted the pressing need for updating infrastructure. Another fire near the end of this year killed 12 factory workers in Keraniganj.
A number of different elections took place, notably the DUCSU elections, which were held after 28 years. But violence by the ruling party cadres shamefully continued at the Dhaka University campus despite the promising and unorthodox outcome of a non-party student becoming the VP. Despite the government’s repeated assurances that crimes will be prosecuted regardless of which party the perpetrators belonged to, brutal assaults and killings by the Chhatra League raged on in university campuses and elsewhere, the most recent being the attack on DUCSU Vice President Nurul Haque Nur.
While violent activities marred politics, Bangladeshi youth inspired hope in many areas they flourished in. Two young Bangladeshis -- Hussain M Elius and Abdullah Al Morshed -- were featured in the prestigious ‘Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia’ list, showing, unsurprisingly but importantly, that Bangladeshis can achieve great things.
The crisis in the banking sector continued without any serious attempts at solving the problems. With defaulted loans in the banking sector reaching Tk112,425 crore and Bangladesh becoming lowest ranked country in South Asia in bank soundness -- 130th out 141 countries in the world -- the situation now poses a severe threat to the country’s economic stability and might substantially obstruct the government’s declared goal of making Bangladesh an upper middle income country.
Casualties in highway accidents continued to mount, but for once, not without the government stepping in to implement the promised and desperately needed highway lanes. In the 2018-19 fiscal year the Road Transport And Highways Division has achieved 100% of its goals in four-lane constructions, including in the critically important Dhaka-Padma-Bhanga highways.
Similar success is not seen in controlling noise pollution in Dhaka where ridiculously loud hydraulic horns can blare out relentlessly, causing serious damage to public health, despite clear instructions from the High Court prohibiting loud honking.
The dengue outbreak in the middle of the year was one of the most covered phenomena in the media. The government reacted by deploying large scale mosquito control drives and facilitating diagnosis and treatment at affordable costs. Its praiseworthy response was overshadowed by a lack of proactive measures, and in many respects failing to fulfil its basic duties toward preventing such an outbreak.
The government earned acclaim internationally for Bangladesh’s robust GDP growth, which is projected to continue, with growth in the current fiscal year set to go up to a record 8.13%. Along with the GDP growth, the government has stressed on the need for a focus on climate change preparedness and Prime Minister Hasina’s speeches in international forums echoed that urgency.
Despite the much advertised economic growth, Bangladesh still faces the critical problem of people trying to illegally migrate to foreign countries in search of a better income. In May this year an Italy bound boat with illegal immigrants, majority of whom from Bangladesh, capsized in Tunisia, killing over three dozen Bangladeshis.
Migrant workers remain a major contributor to the country’s economy, yet continue to face harsh working conditions abroad, most notoriously in Saudi Arabia. Female migrant workers continue to return to Bangladesh abandoning their work in the Middle East as they face abuse.
The government’s war on drugs in 2018 had rightly emphasized on eliminating the widespread yaba abuse but mostly resulted in rampant extra-judicial killings. It continued through 2019, with human rights organizations continuing to urge the government to cease the illegal practice.
The casino scandal was another major event in 2019, which purportedly showed the government’s uncompromising stance on corruption. A number of casinos, which are illegal establishments under Bangladeshi laws, were raided and owners were arrested. Among the owners were ruling party members who were not shown leniency.
But when it comes to her party members, Awami League president and Prime Minister Hasina seems to be always fighting an uphill battle. In October, Chhatra League members in BUET brutally tortured and killed 21 year old BUET student Abrar Fahad. Abrar’s Facebook post about Bangladesh-India relations were deemed unacceptable by the ruling party members, and apparently punishable by torture. The news, accompanied later by a chilling video footage of Abrar’s lifeless body being carried out of the university hall triggered a country-wide protest, forcing the government to arrest the perpetrators.
The development regarding new citizenship laws in India has caused much concern among Bangladeshi people, even though the government repeatedly assured that there will be no push-ins from India.
A major train accident killed 20 people in November, bringing forth the need to renew the 140 year old railway system.
Bangladeshis found solace in the country’s most popular sport: cricket, where the national team continue to gain many successes. But fans of the sport were devastated when Bangladeshi cricketing superstar Shakib Al Hasan faced disciplinary action, effectively banning him from cricket.
The powerful Cyclone Bulbul killed 17 people and ravaged 14 districts in November. Despite the toll on the lives and properties, Bangladesh’s remarkable capacity for resilience shone through. It showed Bangladesh’s increasing capacity in disaster management, particularly in evacuating vast numbers of people, consequently preventing larger damage.
Saqib Sarker is Deputy Magazine Editor at Dhaka Tribune.