Placing a country like Bangladesh on a time-scale to write its report card of progress or decline against a benchmark is an intellectually challenging exercise, if a little enigmatic. This is because of aggregative yardsticks being in application to gauge progress or otherwise much as this can miss the trees for the wood. Also in highly contrasting situations, particular high points were discovered, minus of course, the feel good factor which is a much valued attribute of progress these days. This comes with elective democracies.
On another but somewhat related plane, a country materially not so advanced, can rank high on the happiness index as Bangladesh happens to be. But the 'happy we' should be motivated to raise the bars to scale new heights not to wallow in a poetic sense of justice. But this is not for asking; an enabling environment needs to be created.
With these words, we set the scene. Indeed we have had four free and fair elections which however did not bring in new political leadership, it only changed hands. We morphed into parliamentary system from the stranglehold of military and presidential authoritarianism; and the economy transformed from nationalisation to mixed to privatisation including informalisation, a term that is used to denote clannish hold on the economy. The lot of the average people has not intrinsically changed.
But need we be so cynical when such a prestigious international assessing agency like Goldman Sachs sees Bangladesh as a potent investment destination? When the likes of Bill Gates sees high IT potential for Bangladesh? When social enterprise and women entrepreneurship are on the rise? Of course, we can turn a corner with a changed mindset.
The AL government with its three-fourths majority can be politically generous, and powered by legitimacy of the people's mandate can turn things around. All it needs to do is to avoid mistakes of the last two years and consolidate and further the positives. Basically, the ruling party has to place the system above individual, engage in vigorous new policy making and implement decisions, entirely driven by benevolent nonpartisanship.
One simple thing to note is our dependence on foreign aid has been reduced from 80% in the 1970s to less then half of it, and food autarky is all but achieved, indicative of self-reliance; yet, our image abroad has not brightened. Why? Because of lack of working relationship between the government and the opposition based on minimum trust and mutual tolerance.
Coming to brass-tacks, 40% of the population is under 25. Tie this up with the statistics 'average people move 11 times within local areas before migrating to urban centres with only 3% going overseas,' the deduction is: people don't rush to Dhaka city as the first option. There is a cue for the planner and decision-maker here: create epicentres of growth, unleash youth power and hold it to these. This should run parallel to human resource and skill development for the country itself as well as export of manpower tailored to demand to its full implementation.