More than a month has passed since the start of the Myanmar coup and since then various notable events have taken place. At the start of the takeover, several prominent figures of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested and detained. Among those taken into custody were Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint of the NLD .
The following weeks were then marked by massive demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience by the citizens of Myanmar. Crowds of people from all walks of life continue to gather to protest around the country in a display of anger and frustration against the fledgling dictatorship of Min Aung Hlaing.
The Myanmar military has responded with escalating acts of violence and control typical of any authoritarian state. Initially, they tried to shut down forms of communication and when these proved to be less than effective, they resorted to using physical force against their own citizens. To date, at least 149 people have been killed and countless more have been arrested.
While the Myanmar military continues to claim that its takeover was inevitable due to its alleged and unsupported claims of election fraud, the truth is much less conspiratorial. It is the result of the callousness and unending greed of those who would willingly choose to set their nation ablaze rather than let power slip from their fingertips.
Information has been released and verified that exposes the connections the Myanmar military has with several local and international corporations and businesses; these business interests continue to be the main driving force behind the Myanmar military’s oppressive and repressive actions.
Yet, how much money do they actually stand to gain?
In December 2020, Justice for Myanmar, a movement which aims to expose systemic oppression and human rights violations in the country, released a comprehensive report that details the involvement of the Myanmar military with Mytel and Viettel. The report then explains how these three entities work in tandem to further line their pockets while committing grave violations of human rights. Viettel is publicly known to be a state-owned enterprise with direct ties to both the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Ministry of Defense.
Then, on March 4, 2021, Justice for Myanmar released additional information regarding this issue. While its previous report explores the structure and the effects of the symbiotic relationship of the military, Mytel, and Viettel, this more recent exposé focuses more on the financial aspect of the situation.
Justice for Myanmar claims that Military generals involved in this operation may be entitled to more than US$700 million after five to nine years since the start of Mytel’s business venture and a further US$450 million in the five years after that.
This is due to the military owning more than 28 percent of shares in Mytel through Star High, a subsidiary of the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which is a Myanmar military conglomerate.
However, when the other domestic investor – Myanmar National Telecom Holdings (MNTH) – was unable to keep its financial obligations and was forced to sell a number of its total shares in Mytel to Star High, causing the military owns more shares of Mytel.
In effect, the military actually owns as much as 39 percent of Mytel in shares while 49 percent belongs to Viettel. The remainder goes to the other smaller investors that came from MNTH.
Viettel also stands to achieve significant financial gain through this arrangement.
Viettel was essential in the establishment of Mytel itself. In Mytel’s first three years of operation, Justice for Myanmar reported that Viettel “agreed to provide the lion’s share of the US$1.38 billion needed by Mytel in its first three years by investing US$169 million in its shares and lending it up to US$903 million.”
Aside from this, Viettel also dedicated staff and personnel to train and establish Mytel’s workforce. Interest is also paid to Viettel from the loan taken by Mytel on top of the 2 percent annual management fee from yearly profits.
Mytel also has allegedly made deals with some Vietnamese banks as well. This report stated that Mytel had entered into a US$40 million five year loan with Vietnam’s TP Bank.
It is clear that this arrangement stands to be very financially lucrative for those involved, and while the ethics of both military and sizable foreign ownership in commercial businesses is, to an extent, debatable, the danger with Mytel lies in the nature of the company itself.
Mytel is not just any company; it is a telecommunications company. And it is often the case that governments and militaries have malicious vested interests in controlling telecommunications.
There is already evidence available that the Myanmar military is using Mytel to infringe on the rights of the already oppressed Rohingya minority. Being a telecommunications company also gives the Myanmar military direct access to information it can use to strengthen and extend its hold on the country.
Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung states that, “Every phone call on the Mytel network and every kilobyte of data finances the people’s oppression. The brutal and corrupt Myanmar military junta is motivated by personal profit and it is greed that drives their brazen and bloody attacks on the people.” His words and sentiments seem to be echoed by a few of Mytel’s former business partners.
In response to its militarization, some of Mytel’s domestic and international business partners and investors have grown concerned.
Singaporean payments firm Coda has removed Mytel from it’s payment channels and International Power Generation, (IPG), a local investor, has taken initial steps to distance itself from the company. While the actions of Coda and IPG are commendable and other investors in Mytel should follow suit, it still remains doubtful if this will have any significant and immediate effect.
After all, the fact remains that the three-way relationship between Mytel, Viettel, and the Myanmar military is only one of more than 100 business channels that the Myanmar military uses to fatten its coffers. Should one avenue be shut down, others continue to remain open for them to exploit and use. With the amount or resources available at their disposal, it should only be a minor inconvenience for them to open up alternative methods for monetary gain. But, this is hardly a surprise. In fact, it is expected.
The struggle for true freedom and democracy has never been an easy fight. It has always been a Sissyphean battle, an uphill and treacherous climb against overwhelming odds. And once you reach the top, there is also no guarantee that you can stay there.
Oftentimes, a nation finds itself on the zenith of the hill only to stumble and fall partway or even descend all the way to the very bottom. Yet, as believers in a better tomorrow for ourselves and for all, we pick ourselves up and try again. We stand and climb as many times as it takes, for a future we might not even get to see.
And here lies the beauty of the struggle.
While the Myanmar military and other authoritarians like it fight to amass wealth and hoard as many pieces of magic paper they can get, others fight for something much greater than themselves: an idea, a dream, a possibility.
What activists, protestors, and demonstrators in Myanmar, and in the rest of the world stand to gain cannot be measured in billions, or even trillions of dollars. Rather, its value can only be glimpsed in the people’s eyes as they continue to stand firm, shoulder-to-shoulder, against tyranny and against terror.
Now is the time to stand with the people of Myanmar; for the good of one is for the good of all.
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