What Do Ordinary Burmese Expect From Obama’s Visit?

By Nobel Zaw 13 November 2014

US President Obama touched down in the capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday night to attend the Asean and East Asia summits. Two years ago, he first visited Burma and met with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the start of sweeping political reforms. His historic visit caused a wave of excitement among the people of Burma and was a cause of great hope.

After a good start, however, reforms have stalled during the past year and enthusiasm among the public has diminished significantly.

The Irrawaddy interviewed ten people on the streets of Rangoon to ask how they feel about Obama’s second visit to their country, and what they hope he can achieve through his visit and meetings with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi.

SAI_1Soe Hlaing, 58, a security guard at the MGW building on Bo Aung Kyaw Street, said, “I am interested to hear that Obama came to Myanmar, but I think not much change happened before and after Obama came [in 2012], because this government acts in the same way as the previous military regime.”


SAI_4Thet Htoo, 34, the owner of View Scape photo agency on Bo Aung Kyaw Street, said, “I am less interested now than during Obama’s previous trip to Myanmar because it was the first time for that a United States president came to Myanmar. Now, the amount of support for Obama from U.S Congress is in decline and some criticize him, saying that he just came here just to show off a foreign policy success.”


SAI_6Thiri Nanda, 39, a Buddhist monk, said, “I am more interested this time because Myanmar will hold elections in 2015 and I hope that Obama will put some pressure on the government [to ensure free and fair elections].”


SAI_13Khin Nyo, 56, who sells newspapers near Shwegonedaing Junction, said, “I no longer expect anything this time because our expectations didn’t come true. People were quite positive when Obama first came to Burma, but now [given the stalled reforms] they suspect he will not be able to help bring the change to the country that they want.”


SAI_7Khin Maung Myint, 60, one of dozens of the demonstrators who have camped out in front of City Hall to protest against land-grabbing in Rangoon’s Mi Chaung Kan Township, said, “I am more interested this time. There is no country where military conducts businesses like here, and hopes Obama will tell the government to stop that kind of thing.”


SAI_11Soe Aung, 58, the owner of Super Printing shop near Shwegonedaing Junction, said, “The amount of sales of Obama t-shirts and [images of] the two countries’ flags are only half of what they were two years as this is not his first trip.”


SAI_8Arkar Min, a 19-year-old student from the Technological University of Moulmein said, “We have planned to welcome Obama as want to see him in person. With the 2015 election getting nearer, I’m curious to hear what he will say about it.”


SAI_14Harji Maung Maung Myint, 59, the secretary of the Sunni Jamah Bengali Mosque on Sule Road, said, “If I had the chance, I want to request Obama to push the government to make our country a genuine and full democracy.”


SAI_10Ko Cho, 50, a taxi driver, said, “If the world wants to know where Obama is now, I will say ‘Obama is in Myanmar’. So the name of Myanmar will be well-known around the world; I happy that my country is well-known.”


SAI_12Bo Bo Aung, 30, a cleaner with the Yangon City Development Committee, “I am interested to hear that Obama came to Myanmar. I am cleaning my city and I don’t want him to look down on my city if it is not clean.”