By Mamun Rashid
Nowadays, we are so busy coping with the changes in our day-to-day lives that we do not have the time to step back and think for a moment about how Bangladesh is changing and what the changes are. Let's take a trip down memory lane and try to figure out some of the significant changes that took place between 1990 and 2010.
Major changes took place in the telecommunications sector. Bangladesh was ranked 21st in the world, based on the number of mobile phones in use. As of September 2010, we had over 65 million mobile phones in use, which is about 40% of our total population. This is creating "synergy at the bottom of the pyramid" and also changing the way people behave in rural places.
There were no mobile phones in 1990 as Pacific Bangladesh Telecom, popularly known as Citycell, was just awarded the license and came into operation at the end of 1992. T&T landline connection has fallen from a sought-after necessity to almost an obsolete mode of communication. According to 2008 data, Bangladesh was ranked 67th in terms of number of land telephone lines in use, with 1.4 million connections. We can safely assume that the number has not gone up significantly in the past 2 years.
To the credit of the mobile operators, about 3% of the population have been brought under internet coverage, which was practically nil in the early nineties. The number of personal computers in use is around 5% of the population, with a ratio of 75:25 between desktops and laptops.
Five private FM radio stations have emerged as a new medium for entertainment. Personal time in front of television has gone up due to the increasing affordability of colour TV and increasing options through dish TV and about 12 private Bangla satellite channels. Now even small grocery shops in the corner of the road must have a TV, and there are always 10-20 people in the evening to watch whatever is going on.
On the other hand, TV time is decreasing among the urban young population. They are more inclined towards hanging out with friends on weekends, video-chatting on busy days, Facebooking, YouTubing and the like. Today, over 850,000 people are using Facebook in Bangladesh, and the subscriber base is expected to rise exponentially in the coming years, not only for Facebook but also for other popular social networking sites.
The daily routine of a government or private service-holder twenty years ago was to work from 9 to 5, come home straight or after a little bit of shopping, and have afternoon snacks with wife and children. The whole evening was leisure time, which people spent by listening to music, reading books, visiting relatives and the like.
Large-scale privatisation and increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) have changed the daily routine of the households. The private sector has taken up the driving seat of the economy, more multinational corporations (MNC) have come in, local private companies are embracing the business practices of the world's largest MNCs through management level recruitments.
As a result, the workplace culture has become faster, delivery focused and deadline-oriented. This has led to flexibility in office timing. Some come in early in the morning, some work long hours to meet a deadline, and some carry the work home in laptops and attend to important emails while stuck in hours-long traffic.
Women empowerment has taken place in two distinct ways. Rural women have been financially active through micro-finance movement. On the other hand, more and more women in the urban areas are enrolling with universities, going abroad for higher studies and joining the corporate world. Seems like housewife as a profession has lost its charm among the young generation.
As a by-product, hundreds of day-care centres have cropped up. Some of them are run by government or non-profit organisations (NPO) and some are commercial. This business has lured every level of working mothers, from the garments worker to the top-tier executive. In these joint income families, no hot meal waits for the sole bread-earner because both the spouses work equally hard to attain the aspired standard of living.
Eating out has gone up as domestic help are highly sought after and also because people have started appreciating the diversity of different cuisines. Almost every month there is at least one new fast food joint/coffee shop/restaurant propping up in the city's happening spots. For women, the amount of time spent with family has gone down significantly. Nowadays, unlike earlier times, they do not always accept the decisions of the spouse, rather, knowingly or unknowingly, they look up to their supervisor or co-workers for decisions.
Motor vehicles have become the main vehicle for transportation instead of rickshaws. Up to June, 198,439 motorcars were registered with Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). Only 60% were registered up to 2003, and the remaining 40% were registered over the last 7 years (2004-2010). In a country where vehicle prices have gone up with the declaration of budget and fuel prices are have gone up gradually, private cars should not have been an obvious choice, but people prefer comfort and speed in daily life.
Both foreign and domestic air travel to and from Bangladesh have increased manifold. Apart from the national carrier, 3 privately owned Bangladeshi airlines and about 15 foreign airlines are operating to meet the fast-growing demand for air travel.
At least 27% of the country's population is urbanised, with an annual average urbanisation rate of 3.5%. We have seen mass migration to cities, especially Dhaka. Dhaka was marked as the "the city with the highest population growth in the world" by World Bank. It is still growing, with half a million migrants being added per year.
City people are now more eager to embrace festivals such as pohela baishak, pohela falgun and new-year celebrations with friends and family as a breath of fresh air in their busy life. As the society evolved, the mushrooming growth of English-medium schools, ladies' hostels, shared apartments for private university students, community centres, shopping malls, beauty salons, etc. was also seen. Amusement parks, resorts, and gymnasium have cropped up. Retail investment in capital market as well as the number of bank accounts rose in line with increase in relevant activities.
Well, not everything has changed in Bangladesh. For instance, public health scenario still remains archaic, quality of public education has not improved, transport situation has worsened, deregulation and policy adaptation has not been taken up the desired pace. Political parties still love to call strikes to the dismay of the business community, especially the exporters.
The two big ladies of the two large political parties have not joined any discussions "face to face" for the last twenty years. Civil bureaucracy is still playing the main role of being "bureaucratic." Here is hoping that some day we will be able to ponder over tremendous positive changes taking place in these neglected areas as well. Change has to happen, because change is the only constant thing in this world.
Mamun Rashid is a banker and economic analyst. Views expressed are his own.
Source: Daily Star, Bangladesh