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Bhutan's Future
Alex Steffen, 30 Dec 03


Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist kingdom nestled in the eastern Himalayas, has long had a policy of "selective modernization." Seeing the effects of colonialism (and, later, development policies dictated by the First World) on the cultures and societies of neighboring countries, the Bhutanese government has put strict limits on technology, private enterprise, trade and tourism (they only got television in 1999). In some ways, these limits have worked: Bhutan retains its distinctive culture, and by many measurements its people are better off than most of their neighbors. Indeed, Bhutan is the only nation on Earth to formally measure "Gross National Happiness."

But things are changing fast, even in tiny Bhutan. For one thing, with modern health care and better nutrition has come a population boom. Almost half the country's people are under 18. The increased population has strained to the breaking point the natural resource bases on which traditional herding, farming, forestry and craftsmanship rely, and has started the capital Thimphu on its way towards megacity status (well, at least in relative terms). Now the Bhutanese find themselves needing to embrace new ways of doing things precisely in order to preserve their traditional values.

They may well pull it off. The government, working with the UNDP, has created a local ISP, Druknet, and is working on pilot projects to widen online access to government resources and to provide online markets for traditional crafts. And tools are spreading - for instance, a Visual Institute of Technology has been started, providing access and training Bhutanis in coding skills; and the Solar Electric Light Fund is creating a revolving fund to help rural villages buy solar panels.

What remains to be seen is if a traditional kingdom like Bhutan can embrace the "Brasília Consensus" of bottom-up, tech-driven sustainable development - if it can leap-frog into the 21st Century - while remaining a place where culture remains strong and "quaint" concepts like measuring the national happiness still matter.

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Comments

there is a dark side to bhutan...

http://www.plastic.com/article.html;sid=03/12/13/10191771#8

"This ruling class is using this system to its advantage, albeit with an incredibly well-run PR campaign of GNH and environmentalism. While these are indeed incredibly noble and all to scarce government goals and policies, I fear it is merely a cover-up for the underlying social dilemma the country faces."

...and skeletons:

http://www.geocities.com/cemardbhutan/cultural.html

"...the remarkable social control exerted by the Bhutanese monarchy is most apparent in its cultural cleansing of the southern Bhutanese in the early 1990s:"

on a lighter note, in my ongoing "lula watch," he makes the economist with a nice lulan year in review :D

http://economist.com/world/la/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2313280

"The coming year may bring more realism and competence to his administration as a whole. It is likely to open with a shuffling of ministerial posts, intended partly to bring into government the centrist Democracy Movement Party, the second-largest in Congress, which helped Lula pass pension and tax reforms. This may also weed out the weakest ministers and perhaps reduce their number from an unwieldy 33."

and altho hopeful, i think mexico offers an immediate cautionary tale about squandered political advantage and the entrenched interests of status quotidian "dinosaurs" that should not be ignored!

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/28/opinion/28SUN2.html

"President Vicente Fox, at the midpoint of his six-year term, already looks like a lame duck. It would be hard to overstate the personal popularity and moral authority that Mr. Fox had upon assuming office. But he has failed to turn that into a governing mandate. That's partly because his party does not control a majority in the Congress, where the PRI retains the largest voting bloc."

a problem i don't think PT has? but still like to whom much is given, much more will be asked! happy 2004 :D


Posted by: smerkin on 30 Dec 03

I've had some wierd experiences talking to people about Bhutan. In '99 I met two Bhutanese refugees in San Fran who told me a story that had me in tears. Then a year later I met a Danish filmaker who had been there several times and held Bhutan up as this model country.

I read an article in the Guardian about the coming of TV to Bhutan which raises a lot of questions for me about modernisation and how 'one' goes about it :-)

Here it is.

"Do not adjust your life"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,3895413-103680,00.html

"Bhutan is a remote mountain kingdom which has shunned the world and its technological advances - its capital doesn't even have a single traffic light. Now the leaders of this Buddhist society have decreed that the people are 'sufficiently educated' to receive television for the first time. But can centuries of tradition survive the coming of the box? Peter de Jonge reports from the Dragon Kingdom."


Posted by: Zaid on 30 Dec 03



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