According to the World Economic Forum, 70% of the global economy will be made up of digital technology by the year 2030. This is the trend accelerated by Covid pandemic and the tendency for everyone to go online. Using the same criteria, the size of Myanmar’s digital economy could be around $70B, by 2030, assuming the economy grows at 5% for the next seven years.
It is quite impracticable to precisely estimate the size of the digital economy. More so true for Myanmar. A large percentage of payments now-a-day is done digitally, yet one would be imprudent to assume that the majority of it contribute to the economy. Mobile wallets transactions value alone exceeded $20 billion in year 2022, representing approximately 30% of the country’s GDP. Most of these transactions, however, are transfer payments. Knowing as such, it would be incorrect to state that the digital payments contribute to the economy in any significant manner, without any evidence to the contrary.
If we consider the e-commerce alone, the size of the industry can be appraised more precisely. In 2018, three established organisations estimated the industry size and the resultant number concurrently turned out to be around $100m, or 0.13% of the GDP. The number is further validated in comparison with the region and the market leaders.
Nowadays, Myanmar e-commerce is in doldrums, performing worse than the economy itself. The economy was down nearly 20% in 2021 (WB, IMF) and e-commerce was down nearly 80%, on the basis of examining the sales volume statistics of the e-commerce majors within the country. Since the anti-establishment and pro-CDM activities happened predominantly in the cyberspace, the e-commerce entities bore the brunt of attacks by NNCP terrorists. The fear contagion cowed others digital players into oblivion on the world wide web. The startups are gone. Even some household brand names such as food2u, door2door, grab taxis disappeared.
Global tech industry itself is down. The end of Covid is once again pushing people back onto the streets, in the physical world, instead of wondering around in digital arena. Combined that with the blossoming of Chatgpt, we are now witnessing the chain of events never before seen in the tech industry. Microsoft, Facebook, Google are all retrenching staff in excess of tens of thousands. All in all, tech industry lay offs exceeded 100,000 staff in US alone in 2023. The trend is likely to get worse. Now even programming codes can be written by Ai. Within a couple of years, Ai would take over a lot of tasks being done by humans in the tech industry.
Even along our neighbouring shores, ASEAN tech giants are now cash strapped. The heydays of unlimited spending in order to dominate the market are over. GoTo (Tokopedia plus Gojek), Shopee, Carousel, Grab, all have been hammered in the stock market and all are reassessing their spending habits, in light of the cash deficiency.
In Myanmar, e-commerce players are also going for zero or low budget options such as telegram or generic Facebook posts, and dropping their sponsored ads and websites that use AWS servers. The cyber attacks by online terrorists only resulted in damaging Myanmar’s e-commerce industry, allowing the market share be captured by foreign owned digital enterprises. All of these cyber terrorists should be charged for treason!
Cyber terror attacks on e-commerce entities resulted in one inadvertent negative externality of more fraudulent activities in cyberspace. Since the industry chieftains are no longer playing the leadership and guidance roles, the Facebook has become the old west, with many snake oil salesmen trying to con the consumers of their hard earned cash.
How to Develop Myanmar’s Digital Economy
1. Digital trust is the key
According to the World Economic Forum (Aug 22), building digital trust into the world’s digital economy could unleash trillions of dollars of opportunities. The World Bank estimates that the digital economy contributes to more than 15% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and in the past decade it has been growing at two and a half times faster than physical world GDP.
Digital trust is individuals’ expectation that digital technologies and services – and the organisations providing them – will protect all stakeholders’ interests and uphold societal expectations and values. But a ‘digital trust gap’ is emerging that threatens to undermine the full potential and benefits of a thriving global digital economy.
Digital identity is vital element of building trust both online and in our wider economies – to everyone’s benefit. Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak, was asked him if he would do anything differently with regards to the creation of the internet. His response was that if we had known what we know now, we would have built in security and identity right from the start.
That identity must be the foundational element to building digital trust, and therefore our digital economy. If you don’t know for sure that you are interacting with your bank, not a fraudster, or a real person not a fake social media or fake news account, how do you trust in a digital world?
Almost half of all consumers surveyed by the World Bank expect governments to create a more secure digital world. That brings us to the second prerequisite…
Here I would recommend to take a leaf out of China’s playbook. China is #1 in e-commerce as a percentage of their GDP. Despite its handicap on the language, its apps, hi-end products and Ai tools have captured sizeable market share in the world.
In President Xi’s Governance of China IV, three steps are listed down as to how China leapfrogged everyone in the developed world in digital economy (DE).
A. Sound cyber culture. The government clearly mandated that China’s civil culture must not only exist in the physical world, but also must imbue in the digital world.
Contrast that to ourselves – while we behave very civilised when we meet each other, Myanmar’s Facebook pages are full with swearing, cursing, kill orders, etc. Why do we have a different culture and become brutes when we get onto the internet?
Solution – digital identities and cyber governance.
B. By reinforcing cyber governance, China has enriched and improved online content and achieved notable results in promoting civility, decency and desirable practices and trends online.
Contrast that with us – Myanmar people are bullying, attacking, slandering, defaming, character assassinating the leaders, the government and anyone in support of them in building up our nation. And most of these criminals and culprits have not been served justice yet. As long as they continued to get off scot-free, Myanmar will never prosper.
Solution – better cyber governance and control by government, relentless law enforcement and more severe penalties for offenders.
C. Coordinate development and governance, and online and off-line efforts, and bring together all positive forces for the common good.
Contrast that with Myanmar – the internet was set free around 2012/2013. It helped the country’s growth tremendously. Yet the development was not accompanied by governance, resulting in the near destruction of the country ten years later, by ghoulish and perverted forces.
Solution – time to refocus on governance again and buttress the basic principle that no allowance should be made for development without an infrastructure set in place for governance.
3. One Practical Matter on Writers and Artists (WA)
No one worth his salt, would argue that WA contributed significantly to the destruction of the state during the years 2021 and 2022. They can express their creativity and artistic freedom, but it must not go against the interest of the country. E.g., encouraging CDM movement is definitely asking for ruining of Myanmar. Here, the government must guide them so that their arts contribute to the development of the country.
- Writers and artists (WA) must champion the cause of national interests and invest their enthusiasm in showcasing the achievements of our nation in the new era.
- WA to continue to innovate on the basis of what has succeeded in the past, and open up new horizons for literature and art with masterpieces that reflect the times we live in.
- WA should put their heart and soul into telling our stories and present Myanmar as a country worthy of friendship, trust and respect.
- WA to keep the right path and realise your life’s worth by pursuing both moral integrity and artistic success.
Without getting to grip with governance, law enforcement, harsher penalties and guidance for WA, it will not matter what approaches or strategies we take to develop the DE. The DE might grow in the short term, but lack of the above ‘sine qua non’ would, without a doubt, come back to haunt us within the next ten years.
We opened up the digital economy once in 2013, without the above mentioned fundamentals in place. At that time, no one is far sighted enough to warn us of the dangers of unruly digital space that could even lead to levelling of a State. Now, you have been warned. As Anthony Weldon said in 1650 … Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me!