Banana republic

Extracted from Source: HAZLAN ZAKARIA, a member of the Malaysiakini team.

The phrase “banana republic” described a country governed by those primarily concerned with economic gains for the benefit of a colonial, political or corporate power, to the detriment of socially benefiting values such as democracy and welfare.

Conjured up during the days of American ‘gunboat democracy’, it referred to central and south American dictatorships set up with foreign backing (usually the United States government or corporations) to exploit agricultural crops, mainly bananas.

The concept has evolved with the political climate, so that rather than bananas or other crops, natural resources such as lumber and oil fuelled the development of banana republics in the 20th century.

And rather than foreign powers, new age banana republics are presided over by local tyrants, much like Idi Amin who wanted to stamp his own brand of colonialism on the face of Africa.

Banana republics are characterised by rampant corruption at all levels, making governance untenable and unstable, a breeding ground for bribery and under-the-table dealings as resources are stripped bare for profit’s sake.

In order to maintain order amongst a disenchanted populace, most banana republics also featured a bloated military or state security apparatus. Sometimes backed up by paramilitary or citizen ‘pressure’ groups that do the government’s dirty work.

It is also most often marked by increasing reliance on privatisation to fulfil basic services, in most cases leaving the population with reduced wages and worsening living conditions as cronyism and commercial interests overrule social welfare.

This also set the stage for an upper class elite to lord over the populace, concentrating wealth and power in an ‘old boy network’ oligarchy and its attendant pedigree-based dynastic politics.

‘Transformation’ plans

While we are not in central or south America, economic policies appear like a shortcut to a banana republic.

One fact to be noted is the profligate defence spending which saw billions being spent on new weapons despite cheaper alternatives and the lack of a proper threat to the country.

This move was followed by the increase in the number of Territorial Army companies and expansion of membership.

Are they setting up a fall guy to do their dirty deeds? One has to remember that the excesses under Hitler were not started by the Nazi party but a more radical offshoot called the SA, Ernst Roehm‘s ‘brown shirts’.

While crime prevention and national defence has always been waved around as an excuse for such expansion, it is suspicious that more resources are not poured into crime prevention measures instead.

The SB, which employs huge numbers of personnel and eats up considerable resources, is mostly used to monitor journalists, the opposition and those suspected of anti-government tendencies rather then preventing crime.

Ranked poorly in graft studies

Similarly, a pattern of abuse of power and corruption continue to see its enforcement agencies ranked poorly in corruption studies. Are we going the banana way?

Adding to the verdict are of course the mega projects and massive privatisation, done at the expense of the public trust, as crony corporate interests sidestepped and ran roughshod over the people’s welfare.

These are ‘leaders’ only in name who continue to enrich themselves while telling the people to tighten their belts, some acting like thugs and spewing abusive and racist statements, without even an apology to follow, just more justifications to do as they please.


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