With Vivien Nicolas, we had the pleasure to spend a two week holiday in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Two weeks of emotions and wonder. Thanks to Tin Aung Linn, our local Mozilla Reps, we were able to met several Burmese Free Software personalities. From all those meetings and discoveries, we draw one conclusion: Myanmar now! Especially for the Internet, as I’ll explain in the second part of this post.
- Why it’s time to go there, in general:
About Burma, it is often said it’s the most beautiful country in Asia. I don’t have any comparison points, since this was my first trip to the continent. Yet, one thing is sure: it’s a wonderful country. Wonderful.
But the first wealth of Burma is its people! Vivien and I were blown away by their kindness and generosity. On our first day, the trip started quite badly: lost luggage; domestic flight from Yangon to Inle Lake cancelled. Hopefully, our disappointment was soon to be forgotten thanks to Julie, a Air KBZ employee: she found our luggage (even though it was not her company’s fault) and, moreover, we had the pleasure to dine in Chinatown with her and her husband Éric. A night to remember, during which Vivien ate locusts and bamboo worms, and met new friends. I take the opportunity to dedicate this post, and my best wishes, to Julie and Éric, and once again invite them to Paris!
And we had so many other meetings in Burma! Monks, restaurateurs, worshipers in temples, children… All gave us a wonderful smile, a nice word; some took pictures of us. Respectful, discrete, charming: this is how Burmese were with us. They gave us a real life lesson.
And we’ll never forget the landscapes and monuments. Some areas are still wild, outside of time (just have a look to the Intha fishermen on Inle Lake). Every temple, every pagoda has its surprises. Not to forget this senerity feeling that envelops you.
So, in short, you get the point. We were under the spell.
So why is it time to go there now? Because tourists are just starting to come in mass, and you can still enjoy this country in relative peace. Because the junta has turned over power to a civilian government (even though, in reality, the military junta is still there unofficially), the country is opening itself to trade, and now is the time to come and participate in this opening and prevent it from closing again.
- Why is it time to go there now, especially for lovers of the Internet and Free Software?
To participate in the opening. Prevent Myanmar from closing. Things are still especially delicate there when it comes to the Internet.
Today, between 5 and 7% of the population has access to the Internet. Cybercafés are very successfull, as we could see for ourselves. Geek-attitude knows no borders :). The more people access the Internet, the harder it will be for the regime to apply censorship. That’s why we have to act now.
This is what we realized when we met Burmese Free Software personalities, thanks to our great Mozilla Rep, Tin Aung Linn.
We met both M.Ye and M.Thein in Mandalay. Then we met Ko Ye, Tho Hi, Chit Ko Ko Win, Naing Ye Min, Ethan Kurt, Ma Hteik, Nang Nyi, and Yadanar in Yangon.
Ko Ye Myat Thu and U Thein Htut are part of the Myanmar Computer Professionals Association, in Mandalay (http://www.mcpamandalay.org/ ). The other people we met in Yangon are free software advocates, including several members of the fantastic Yangon Barcamp (6000 participants in 2013; Aung San Suu Kyi gave a speech for them in 2012!) or the Ubuntu community, and most of them are students.
We asked all of them about their hopes and wishes. Here is a summary of their answers:
- One of the biggests part is about education. There are computer science schools in the country, but several people reported that they were several months or years late on the current state of the art. Autodidacts (like Tin!) are able to educate themselves about free software, but they regret that Web technologies are taught little or not at all. They are dreaming of Mozilla people coming in to teach about Firefox technologies and Open Source languages. Those materials could then be reused by other universities.
- There is also censorship to fight. We could quite easily browse the web when we were there. But only because we were browsing in French or English. Even if it is better than in the past, there is still censorship active locally. With Vivien, we plan to bridge the gap between Burmese free software advocates and the Internews NGO (http://www.internews.eu ), which specializes in fighting censorship.
- Mainly, what Mozilla could help with is bringing more visibility to the issue of the Internet. A couple of days after our trip in Yangon (oh yeah, we were there first!), Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Gooogle, came to give a speech and pleaded for Internet liberty (http://lionslayer.yoeyar.com/?p=1620 ). We can’t sit back and do nothing! Tin and his friends really would like to see Mozilla employees visit too and join in this conversation. All together, they are doing a tremendous job, and I think we have to build on those contributions, show that we, members of the Mozilla Community, are supporting them. Ubuntu is already very present during events. One of the free software advocates we met already had a Ubuntu Phone that he often show. Once again, customs are an issue: our Reps can’t receive their kit. Tin has no t-shirts, banners, nor goodies. William, we need your help! ;-)
- The best would be to participate with them in developing the Internet. That’s why Tin and the others were excited by Firefox OS. Vivien talked a lot about it, showed them the possibilities. Today, they are waiting for just one thing: phone availability in Myanmar. And I also think it’s an excellent opportunity for this country: by enabling people to have the Internet in their pockets, we could exponentially help its development. And those phones would be affordable, unlike Apple’s or Samsung’s. Starting today, I’ll forward Tin as much as possible documentation and videos about Firefox OS. I don’t doubt, also, that French employees and volunteers working on Firefox OS will answer all of his questions. But the best thing would be to organize an event about Firefox OS and bring in some employees. Why not some of the Mozilla Taiwan people?
One thing is for sure: with Tin, M.Ye and M.Thein, Ko Ye, Tho Hi, Chit Ko Ko Win, Naing Ye Min, Ethan Kurt, Ma Hteik, Nang Nyi and Yadanar, and also Chit and Thaung whom we sadly could not meet but whose hard work we have heard about, the Internet in Myanmar is in good hands. They are all excellent advocates for Internet freedom.
With this post, I would really like to thank all of them for their welcome, and all they taught us. I admire you, I wish you good luck, and remain at your service!