After almost five decades of military junta rule, the year 2016 would see a momentous event with the changing hands of the government. There is much hope among the international community for Myanmar to spring into life and catch up on the success of its regional neighbours with the complete lifting of its sanctions. In an interview with The Columnist, Mikael Knudsen, a Senior Consultant of Consulus who has been based in Myanmar for three years, expresses his joy at the prospect of the country’s success and also reminds about the challenges ahead and the need to progress with caution.

What is your wish for Myanmar for 2016?

I first came to Myanmar in 1994 and have since seen this wonderful country and its people going through many tough times. I wish for Myanmar to finally see the sun rise, to develop as part of the international community, and achieve peace and happiness. Myanmar should be proud of being part of the ASEAN community. It should give its young people an opportunity to prosper as well as welcome and meet people from all over the world. Myanmar has so much to offer, being an important part of South East Asia and the rest of the region, in terms of culture and business. My hope is for Myanmar’s businesses and the government to take a prudent and responsible approach to long-term development instead of relying on unpredictable short-term growth. I hope that the country will learn from the experience of other countries in the region. I hope that the leadership will put a lot of emphasis on the younger generation and the development of new talent.

What will be the most significant event in Myanmar in 2016?

The most significant event in 2016 will be the formation of the new government in the early part of the year. That will set the direction and create the platform for the future. If successful, the country can begin the process of tackling all its internal and external issues. Complete normalisation and lifting of all sanctions are the key in attracting significant foreign direct investments to support our developments in infrastructure, education and new businesses.

What challenges does Myanmar face?

Myanmar faces huge challenges in moving forward. Having been isolated from most of the world for decades, the country now needs to create an identity and position itself as a strong and independent player in the international business and cultural community, not just in ASEAN. Myanmar needs to develop its own products, services and ideas instead of simply replicating other regional countries. “Made in Myanmar” must be a strong brand with its own positioning and character that would create a desire to invest in and visit Myanmar. The most important areas for Myanmar in 2016 is the development of its infrastructure, education, finance, hotel and tourism, telecommunication, and health sectors. In the social context, there lies a big challenge, especially among the younger population, in bridging the traditional and modern cultures. Myanmar has a shortage of talent and hence education is a key area that needs to be looked into to develop new talent.

What is the one opportunity in your country that outsiders are not aware of?

Perhaps outsiders are still not aware of just how rich the country is in natural and human resources, how the population is really ready to move ahead and integrate into the international community, and how there lies huge opportunities in developing Myanmar’s brands and services. However, outsiders should be aware of the many challenges that lay ahead for Myanmar. The country is still at its early stages of development.

Mikael took a hot air balloon ride in Bagan, Myanmar.

Mikael took a hot air balloon ride in Bagan, Myanmar.

We cannot talk about one country without mentioning about its signature dish. So what dish will you recommend to someone who visits your country for the first time in order to introduce your culture and why?

Myanmar’s cuisine has a rich history. This is a result of the country being situated between India and China and it is also part of a 650 million strong regional population which is much diversified in terms of culture. I strongly recommend first-time visitors to try a variety of food available and get an idea of how Myanmar developed its own national dishes. I suggest dining at the House of Memories – a restaurant where you can taste all the regional flavours that exist in Myanmar’s dishes.

Thank you for joining us and Happy New Year!

Read how other Consulites think 2016 will be for their countries.