I grew up with the stereotype of Bangladesh as a terribly poor country – if Bangladesh was in the news, it was either about a natural disaster or sweatshops and terrible working conditions. However, while it still isn’t the richest country, it’s got a growing middle class, an established manufacturing, export and tech sector, and in recent years, a booming economy.
It’s something that’s been noticed by its neighbours. Long considered a poor cousin by India, Indian news has been reporting on a recent IMF report that Bangladesh has overtaken India in nominal GDP per capita. A lot of Bangladesh’s indicators are also passing India’s – economic growth, life expectancy, health outcomes, female workforce participation, access to the internet, poverty, women in parliament, etc. It’s causing a lot of worry in India – not out of any animosity towards Bangladesh, but as a warning sign of India’s own stagnation:
So why is Bangladesh on it’s way up? It’s manufacturing industry for global exports, especially clothing, is booming – fuelled by cheap labour, the same way China was a decade ago. There’s also been a big focus on tech and expanding into high-end manufacturing like pharmaceuticals. There’s still massive problems of corruption, poor infrastructure, inequality, and environmental damage, but the trend has been widely positive.
Political stability is also crucial. A lot of this credit goes to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. I could do a whole other post on her and female political leadership in South Asia (and I will, tomorrow.) But the long and short of it is in a region that has known a lot of political and sectarian strife, Bangladesh is now getting room to breathe and grow, and grow impressively.