Lounge #2: A Narrative of Pride

 Published in: The Daily Star on February 13, 2019
Lounge #2: A Narrative of Pride

Bangladesh has come a long way in attaining food security and poverty reduction. Photo: Oxfam

Close to midnight, it felt surreal. Being in the Samsun Airport in Turkey, only 1.5 flying hours away from Istanbul, made me feel as if I were in a new world. It wasn’t a world of magical surprise or rapid development, but one thing was for sure: it was a land that told and sold stories well.

I had come to Samsun, a city in the north coast of Turkey and major Black Sea port. The mission was to see two factories which had offered joint collaboration on two areas: production of readymade garments and transportation of the same in much shorter lead time, and design capabilities.

Turkey boasts an ever-growing FDI figure of USD 7 billion (from January to August 2018), the head of the Presidential Investment Office Arda Ermut had declared a few months back. The reality is Turkey has seen a 22 percent year-on-year decline in FDI. The reality is inflation is more than 25 percent. My personal reality is that a Turkish businessman accompanying me was sharing the saddest stories of his nation and was pointing out that nation-building was no more the goal and that reality was a constructed plane suiting the fancy of the ruler. We spoke on and, finally, when we had finished the factory tours and had reached the airport in Samsun, we cracked up looking at the identical coffee shops at both ends of the airport. One was selling coffee, the other drinks. Both the shops were deserted though. Then, almost immediately, we were being called to Lounge #2. One would automatically assume that there would be more than one lounge to name the other lounges sequentially. There wasn’t any other lounge. And that itself was called “Lounge #2”. At the corner, there was another board saying “International Departure”. My Turkish colleague then told me that there were currently no flights flying out of the airport bound for international skies. On that note, he shared that many were engaged in a new level of national promotion.

Right after I boarded my flight back to Istanbul, as luck would have it, a half-page report in the centre spread was about a “Bengali artist” delving into Third World Internationalism. It was a huge coverage of our own historian Naeem Mohaiemen’s exhibition of films, installations and essays, which shed light on Bangladesh’s complicated post-colonial journey in three phases—from 1905, 1947 and 1971. The Daily Sabah, towards the end of the review, had called him “a prolific artist.”

That soothed my senses. That story was all ours. And that story was true.

My point today is all about taking pride in who we are, what we are, and where we are.

A quick look at the regional scenario… the overall poverty picture has changed due to the growth of Bangladesh.

The South Asia Economic Focus report of fall 2018 reveals that real GDP growth in Bangladesh is closely matched by Maldives, which has helped in reducing extreme poverty in the region. True, the region faces 26.6 percent multidimensional poverty, but extreme poverty is around 11.9 percent, and, importantly, the most positive story is about the poor living at SAR poverty trend of USD 1.90 a day is at its lowest now. And in all of this, Bangladesh has had a terrific contribution which we can be proud of, and Bangladesh’s contribution to the regional scenario has been phenomenal.

Bangladesh’s success in the energy sector is certainly popular discourse in any regional meet. Today, we are a proud nation with 127 power plants producing 20,885 MW of electricity and catering to 3.22 crore consumers, out of which 10,925 MW are supplied by the private sector while import figure stands at 1,050 MW.

The fact is that our GDP per capita rose to USD 1,751 (against a pre-1971 figure of USD 138.2), total GDP reached USD 286.82 billion (as opposed to a pre-1971 figure of USD 4.3 billion), and GDP growth recorded at 7.86 percent (compared to a pre-1971 figure of 5.6 percent) in the last fiscal, by virtue of which Bangladesh today has the 42nd position in GDP ranking.

By 2041, Bangladesh aims to produce 82 gigawatts of electricity, attain 10 percent GDP growth, is going to be hungry enough to attract FDI worth USD 216 billion, and is also aiming to become the 23rd biggest economy in the world…

The best news is that the current path that Bangladesh is on is not one of isolation, but one of collaboration. While the world is moving away from interdependence to independence and ultra-nationalistic urges have triumphed over integration, the story of convergence and collaboration is still a valid discourse in Bangladesh.

And yet, in spite of being happily drenched in the stories of success and aspirations, we sell ourselves so short…

We are paid less, just because we can’t negotiate; we are so busy firefighting that we can’t see tomorrow and hence fail to set visions; we are hungry for our gains and hence we can only compete and not converge.

But this is not the time to whisper; this is the time to hold a megaphone in hand, so that the world gets to hear the story of Bangladesh’s development surprise. In spite of most western nations practising ultra-nationalistic, populist rhetoric, in spite of the general universal inhumanity being preached all over the world, we, at our end, stand proud as the provider of a safe haven for over a million Rohingyas.

Bangladesh can’t be shamed anymore. For every critique, a counter-narrative of high achievement must surface. We have millions of stories to flaunt and not too many to shy away from. Now is the time to bask in our glory and spread the word. Let the search for the best never defeat the better. Meanwhile, the national narrative of pride must set in at all levels. There is no other alternative for us, but to be the best and the biggest storytellers of our current times.