If you follow world news, then you’ve surely heard about the defiant protestors in Myanmar and how they have mounted albeit successfully (for now anyway) daily peaceful demonstrations on the streets against the military government.
Before we get into how this revolution led largely by young people has employed ingenious creative techniques of defiance against their junta, let’s have a recap of how they got into this situation, you know, just in case you didn’t know the events that led up to this siege.
Myanmar had been under military rule from 1962 – 2011, the period between 1974 – 1988 being a constitutional dictatorship. Later in 2011, a new civilian government was established following a 2010 civilian election.
The people of Myanmar on 8th November 2020, went to the polls to elect for their new leaders and unlike before, the younger population voted this time and again overwhelmingly chose, popular opposition candidate, Aung San Suu Kyi (long name, I know) and her party the NLD (National League for Democracy).
Some have even gone on to say that it was a “landslide victory”. This however didn’t go down well with the military, which was and is currently led by General Min Aung Hlaing who claimed that there were large counts of voter fraud and thus the whole election was null and void just because the military-backed party USDP lost.
He didn’t rule out that the army would take over as per power granted by the constitution. Keep in mind, it’s this very army that amended and made huge changes to the constitution in their favour to be utilised in moments like this.
Indeed, early morning on 1st February 2020, the army swept in and overthrew the current government, declaring General Min Aung Hlaing as the commander-in-chief for a year, until when a new election will be conducted – apparently. There’s also a viral video by a fitness trainer who had no clue she was capturing the zooming army cars going into the city to execute the coup until later.
That night, Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition candidates, including influential people were kidnapped in the middle of the night to undisclosed locations for questioning, which has recently turned into prosecution.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with small tramped up charges to warrant her indefinite arrests such as violating Covid-19 social distancing and other guidelines.
Strangely though, the military claims the current siege isn’t a coup but doesn’t offer an alternative name for it. It probably sees this as a heroic effort of some kind.
There’s also the fact that the general had announced plans to retire and join politics next year. Maybe he knew with a civilian government in power now it would be harder to contest later or he wanted them to hold off until then, it’s still unclear. The coincidence of asserting elections will be held after one year is uncanny though, but I’ll leave that to your deduction.
Does he sound like a villain in a blockbuster Marvel movie pulling invisible strings that now make sense when brought together? Hold that thought.
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Aung San Suu Kyi is the lady who advocated for and resisted the military rule of Myanmar, which cost her more than 15 years of house arrest from 1989 – 2010. This even earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She wasn’t released until the army gave in to experiment with democracy. And when they held elections, she couldn’t even lead the country she had sacrificed so much for apparently because she had a foreign child which made her have conflicting interests.
So, someone else became president, still from her movement and party though and she became the State Counsellor. The military took a large percentage of voting seats and control in Parliament and retained considerable power in the government.
The largest spot on her record is her silence when the army pursued, captured, tortured, and killed Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (which is largely Buddhist) in what’s considered by some as ethnic cleansing and by others as genocide. This forced most of the Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh into refugee camps.
This hasn’t reduced her popularity though, maybe because some suspect she didn’t have a large fighting chance against the military will, or they threatened her not to say anything. We will never know until she reveals her true intentions behind her silence.
However, it should be noted that Suu Kyi was always the favoured candidate for a political party that aimed to put the majority Buddhist population first and that has always been notably quiet on the Rohingya, who were discriminated against and persecuted long before this current crackdown.
So, how have the young Myanmar people creatively changed usually violent and non-progressive demonstrations?
1. Defiant noise
The Burmese, the next day began by banging cooking pots and other metal items, including honking for long hours at night to irritate and show solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi who called for everyone to protest the military coup. This went on for a few days.
2. The essential workers
Next, the essential workers such as nurses, doctors and other health care professionals started striking and wearing ribbons (🎗) to show support for the movement. This overly underestimated gesture probably kicked off the mainstream demonstrations that followed shortly after.
3. Demonstrators took to the streets
A small number (at first) of young people took to the streets demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, “the mother of Myanmar”, their words, not mine. Strange enough with little mention of the coup at first.
They were violently dealt with and in some parts dispersed. Thrashed, shot at, arrested, pushed back with water cannons and social media plus the internet were switched off. At this point, a few international countries had condemned the coup, but many including Myanmar’s strategic partner China were silent.
4. The elderly supported the younger generation
It seemed like the military had won, then out of the blue, the protests broke out again and this time around larger than ever before. One thing the military missed was that the elderly had now offered full support and blessing to the younger generation to stand up for their country.
This gave the protesters a small victory, the internet was turned back on including some of the social media services. It was intermittent though because some social media networks like Facebook would get restricted for a few days or were made frustratingly slow and other times left to operate.
The military realised that it could use these very services to spy and collect intel on planned protests as well as arrest the conspirators against their coup. Laws were quickly drafted to allow the army arrest, sentence and deal with such people as they pleased. Not so sure if they were passed.
5. Smarter online planning and cells
Consequently, the protesters became smarter and evolved. They started using other social media networks that are more obscure to track or infiltrate such as Signal, Telegram and the like and formed smaller but coordinated and connected cells.
This made it harder to infiltrate cells because the majority of the people in these cells would know and be local to each other. Yet the cell coordinators would easily link and communicate with other cells.
6. Clever demands from the international community
Remember how I mentioned that these protestors just re-wrote the whole rule book on Revolutions? They used media that was covering the protests to communicate to the international community and they asked most of them to alienate the military government.
They knew that the military was persistent in taking over because they own a lot of businesses and thrive on weapons provided by external forces. So, they called upon most of these countries so that they can choke off their supply and lose money. After all, who will buy anything from a military official’s owned hotel or restaurant now?
This proved very effective led by New Zealand which suspended all operations, meetings and ties with the government, with many following suit. The US and Britain made statements that they would do the same. China had been watching, and for the first time decided to condemn the coup and started distancing itself.
This was so new and strategic, as well as functional that it angered the General who came out and warned the public to stop at once, that he had had it with them and won’t stand it. Who knew that generals too lost their cool that easily over an unarmed mob?
It’s no shock that the next days, protestors were now reporting cases of being shot with rubber bullets as well as live ammunition and sparse reports of gunshot deaths by security forces shooting live rounds unselectively in gathered crowds.
7. Police defectors
As weeks went by, some of the police officers started defecting and supporting the demonstrations. Largely because some of these people were their friends and family, watching them brutalised or killed was probably not what they signed up for.
The numbers are still small but may keep growing. Some can’t defect because they probably fear the consequences of mutiny. However, this was still a huge win for protestors.
8. More workers and groups join & picket
From the end of last week, more of the workers started joining and marching with protestors including lawyers, engineers, artists and even gangs such as biker gangs.
In some places, no one was working at all while other workers picketed which prevented everyone in that place to work. This hurt revenue since without work, no money comes in and threatened to hurt the already fragile Myanmar economy. The general didn’t like this at all.
A government is often screwed when it starts losing its would-be elite populace. The military junta still pressed on and kept suppressing their efforts.
9. Blocking transport routes
Yesterday, the protestors parked their cars strategically and opened the front bonnets pretending they had broken down, causing crazy gridlock traffic and preventing police and military cars from passing through including water cannons. This was incredibly smart and very bold.
Other groups also joined railway workers to lie down and block trains from moving or operating thus bringing most transportation to a standstill. This went on the whole day, until at night when police fired at the protestors on the railway lines.
There are so many other things we are observing that are creative and new in Myanmar’s demonstrations, things we didn’t think of previously that are mostly peaceful but get the message across.
Whether these methods work and get the military to bow down and come to the negotiation table or whether the demonstrations will turn violent soon, is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure, we are probably going to keep seeing more interesting new methods of protesting that may be adopted around the world.
Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Newslibre and Spur Magazine while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.