Satjadham presents:


By: Pao Saykao

Laos has to move on as any country in the world but the big question is how?.

I have not returned to Laos since the new government came into power and my
observation here is based on mostly second hand information - so please feel
free to correct me any time.

Laos has been known through history as the "poorest country" in Asia.  And
today, it has remained so.  A "poor" country , I don't mean it to be lacking
in wealth - I heard that they are plenty of money in Laos but the country is
not developed or "modernised".  There are many reasons for this and I like
to mention a few, not necessary the most important one.

1. Lack of a united vision as a country.  Based on my reading of Lao
history, there seems to be a lack of vision for the people to be a
one-nation country.  Although, the court of Luangprbang was to be the symbol
of unity but the political upheaval over the last 50 years was evidently
overriding this dream of unity.  Since I was born, there was only, the
Luangprabang, Vientiane, Savannakhet groups, or the Lao and the Hmong
groups; the right-wing, neutralist and Pathet Lao; or even the Souvanna or
Souphanouvong groups.  Even today, there are still the mentality of "us" and
"them", "neo Lao hat sat" or "patikan" and the Lao living abroad are still
being "classified into different categories" (SLC -

If you ask any Lao, there is no cohesive answer to what is to be a Lao or
what Laos should be.  Even in Vientiane, I was told, the dollars is almost
everything.  If this is true, it is an irony that the present Vientiane
government came to power because of the hatred of the dollars but now, it is
the very same dollars that have kept them in power - or kept Laos as a state.

I strongly believe that there is an urgent need to change our thinking from
a regional, ideological or tribal idea to a vision of a united Laos where
all citizen can truly participate in the building of the country to be the
"dream state of Asia, if not in the world". But HOW?  I don't know how yet
but I am certain that the how will come when we have change our thinking and
we know WHY we want a united Laos.

2.  Laos needs to join the global village.  We cannot live in isolation any
more.  If the dollars is devalued in the US, Laos is equally affected.  WE
are now member of the global village and Laos is now compete globally,
whether we like it or not.

It is like any other countries, Laos is moving towards urbanisation - people
will gravitate from the country side to the bigger cities where
opportunities, jobs ect... are to be found.  Laos is moving from a
self-sufficient rural-based country to a commercialised state where there is
increasing demand for consumable goods as well as luxury items.

Keeping this in mind, Laos needs to have a comprehensive plan to meet the
needs of its people.  Is Laos going to depend on imported goods? Or can Laos
produced most of its goods?  I believe that Laos can produce most of the
daily consumable goods for the majority of its people.  As we deal globally,
there is no lack of expertise or capitals for Laos to be able to be
self-sufficient in this areas.  For example, it does not require any high
tech machinery to set UP factories that can produce goods like, sugar,
coffee, milk, soap, toothpaste/tooth brush, shampoo, soft drink, biscuits
ect...  These are the items that all Lao are consuming, no matter where they
are and it is probable on of the easiest and biggest industry that the Lao
government can set up.  From here on, there is limitless on what can be

Tourism is certainly one of the biggest industry in the year to come.  Last
year, this industry had employed over 200 million people worldwide, or one
in every nine workers, 10% of the global workforce; contributing over 10% of
the world gross national products and producing over $600 billion in tax
revenues.  It is undoubtable the world's largest industry in term of gross
output, approaching some $3.4 trillion.  And this account for about 11% of
all consumer spending, 10.7% of all capital investment, and 7% of all
government spending.(John Nasbitt in "Global Paradox", Allen & Unwin 1994,
p. 104).

This is big business.  Many countries have taken this trend seriously .
Australia has its own government department of tourism (refer to the
Australian Gov. Home Page;
with a minister to handle this area.  In 1994, tourism generated an export
earning of $AU11.2 billion, representing 12.2 % of Australian total export
earnings - this growth accounted for 40% of the increase in Australian
export earnings in 1994.  In the year 2000, some 6.3 millions people are
expected to visit Australia (vs 3 million in 1994).

Globally, the bulk of the tourists are heading for the Asia-Pacific region,
to find cultural or exotic natural places (to sooth the mind).  Indochina is
now one favour spot and Laos, the country where people can "fell in love
with a simple country" will be a hot spot.  Cambodia has recorded 125,000
tourist and business people through the airport over the last 8 months
(Bangkok Post 14 Nov.1995).  Laos is no exception.  IN the first half of
this year, Bokeo earned 16.24 million kip from tourism. Foreign visitors
totalled 4,123, a rise of 3,859 on the number in the same period last year.
Most of the income was from border crossing fees amounting to 10 34 million
kip.(Bangkok Post, Sept. 19. 1995).

So the Lao government needs to put in place policies that can capture this
fast growing business BUT at the same time to safeguard the country against
opportunists, "cultural pollution" and the exploitation of our women as seen
in Thailand (  I
think that the Australian policies may be a good start for the Lao
government given the current close relationship of the two countries.

3. Other development in Laos.  As we can see, some of the major development
in Laos include the hydro-electric programs in the south and north of Laos,
the national road building and the attempt of China to have a passage to the
Indian ocean (Bangkok Post, Sept 26, 1995), and Thailand to reach China and
Vietnam.  With all these projects, I don't know the extent of benefit to
Laos.  From the local Lao in Luang Namtha province, it seems that the new
road linking China and Thailand through Laos, would have little benefit to
the people of the north-east of Laos.  Even during the construction period,
only 40% of the jobs will go to the Lao.  And the upgrade of route No 9 to
link Thailand to Vietman, Laos may not benefit much as well.  

The priority should be the upgrade of  route No 13, linking the north and
south of Laos as well as the inter-provincial and inter-city roads.  This
would improve the communication for the local people and the rural areas of
the country can be more accessible - this may help to improve the lives of
the rural areas.

4. The man power factor.  Laos is a rich country -naturally and humanly.
But it is not developed as yet.  And apart from its natural beauty and
richness, the Lao people remain the most powerful resource to develop their
country.  Without people, nothing happen.  With good people, working for the
common good, Laos can be a paradise again.  Yes, it is easier to say than to
do but if we can put aside our ego, take the eye away from ourself, abolish
the "them & us" mentality and all people working synergistically for the
common good of the country, each individual can achieve all their dreams as
well the dream of a united nation.

So is about time to put on a new hat - a united Laos - a country of natural
beauty, of smiling people  with diversity, cultural richness.  A
comprehensive plan of action need to be drawn and implimented to move this
country to that once was know as a simple country that one can  "fall in
love with".

Dr Pao Saykao
25 Princes St. Flemington, Vic. 3031. Australia
Tel: 61 3 9376 4111   Fax: 61 3 9376 4636
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