Yesterday (Aug 31), Malaysia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from the British. That year was 1957, and I was just a three-year old toddler, probably lost in my own little world. Since then, I have seen it grow, prosper, and start to make a name for herself on the world stage. Accolades like the world’s largest exporter of rubber and tin made it to my primary school textbooks.
In years to come, these recognitions have slowly faded into oblivion as Malaysia transitions herself beyond the production and export of primary commodities into valued added manufacturing. At the same time, increasing arable lands have been taken up by urbanization and converted for industrial use. Thus, agriculture, once the mainstay of the country’s economy, has been relegated to the status of a sunset industry, though lately agriculture has been accorded a late boost in the recent national development plans.
Flushed with funds from petrodollars, the country has also embarked on several mega infrastructure projects under the previous administration. The Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), and the new government administration center, Putrajaya, came readily to mind.
However, these physical behemoths are dwarfed by the socio-political developments that have gripped the country since the start of the present administration. Political maneuvering, racial polarization, religious intolerance, curtailment of press freedom, and inept governance dominate the alternative mass media aka blogosphere.
By all counts, a golden anniversary is a joyous occasion for reflection, reflecting on the past struggles and sacrifice, for stocktaking, reminding us of the many endowments that the country is blessed with, and for projection into the future, relishing a Malaysia worthy of all Malaysians regardless of race, religion, and socio-economic status.
But by feeling the societal pulse now, indications are the social contract forged in the days of independence has been questioned, the natural endowments squandered by mismanagement, and the prognosis of the country cast into doubt.
It’s naive to think that come next year, things would be looking up any better. But we just have to harbor hope, even a single ray of hope that enough Malaysian would care about a Malaysian Malaysia, not Malay, not Chinese, not Indian, but a Malaysia for all her people, to make a difference perhaps at the occasion of the Emerald (55th anniversary in Year 2012), if not then the diamond anniversary (60th anniversary in Year 2017).
On a less somber note, I saw what the Malaysian Google people have come up with to commemorate this occasion in Jeff Ooi’s blog, in the same spirit of the parent Google people on other momentous occasions, featuring the gigantic kite (called wau in the Malaysian language; merdeka = independence, tahun = year) popular in the northern State of Kelantan as shown below. That, and the bouquet of flowers (top right) courtesy of my wife, appear to be the only bright sparks for me as Malaysia launches itself into the second half of her first century of coming into being.