Myanmar turmoil threatens digital economy, say experts

KrASIA

As Myanmar’s military detained the country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, together with other senior officials, on Monday, seizing control of the government, the internet suddenly went dark for many. The gag, which commenced at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, also crippled businesses that rely on broadband connectivity. It paralyzed the banking system, shutting ATMs and branches for the day, while fintech services such as payment and microfinance apps stopped to work.

Leading mobile wallet Wave Money was among the tech startups that had to suspend its services. Although it was back online on Tuesday, the firm fears further disruptions that could “slow down if not undo” the country’s efforts in building up a digital economy. “Any sector that depends on connectivity would be severely impacted,” a spokesperson told KrASIA. “Businesses and societies face a lot of challenges when telecommunication services are impaired.”

Jeffrey Seah, partner at Singapore-based VC firm Quest Ventures, believes that the investment climate will be slowing down “temporarily.” But he also thinks that it provides an opportunistic window for more “capabilities building” for the startups. “We are watching the situation closely to return to participate in the Myanmar digital economy,” he said.

Seah remains optimistic on the country’s potential. “The digital literacy and connectivity of the Burmese people and its wider diaspora have risen exponentially in the past decade,” he said. “We believe the talent in the tech ecosystem will continue to tap on those trends and continue their development amidst the recent uncertainty.”

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