Myanmar guerrillas’ resourceful fundraising tactics unveiled

    Myanmar, People's Defense Force, Guerrilla financing, Guerilla bank

    Amidst the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, where the Tatmadaw utilizes state resources to fuel its war efforts, an intriguing question arises: where do the opposition forces, the guerrillas, acquire their abundant resources? Surprisingly, the guerrillas have devised an unconventional solution to this quandary by establishing their own bank—a remarkable phenomenon rarely witnessed in the annals of guerrilla warfare.

    Origins of guerrilla financing

    In the remote outposts of Myanmar’s seven marginal provinces, guerrilla factions, representing a mosaic of non-Bamar tribes, thrive on local enterprise and grassroots support. From timber trade to illicit narcotics, these seasoned groups have honed their fundraising prowess through a spectrum of ventures.

    Yet, in central Myanmar, a contrasting narrative unfolds. Here, Bamar youths, thrust into the frontline against the Tatmadaw in pursuit of democracy, grapple with the dual challenges of warfare and fundraising inexperience. As the fledgling People’s Defense Force (PDF), they find themselves without neighboring allies for trade.

    Initially reliant on foreign benefactors, the PDF encountered formidable obstacles in repatriating funds due to stringent government surveillance. Fearing exposure, many backers hesitated to contribute, fearing reprisal. To circumvent these barriers and facilitate seamless transactions, the Bamar guerrillas embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor: establishing their own financial institution.

    Amid the tumult of 2021-22, as citizens across the nation abandoned their government posts in defiance of the military junta, the guerrilla bank pivoted its focus. A key objective emerged: assimilating these dissidents into the guerrilla fold by providing steady income streams through salaries and allowances, fostering unity in resistance.

    Driven by a relentless pursuit of innovation, the guerrillas harness technology to outpace the junta, constantly recalibrating their strategies to maintain their edge.

    Guerilla bank thrives on cutting-edge technology

    As Myanmar’s “Spring Revolution” transitioned into guerilla warfare following the military coup in February 2021, the need for innovative financing became paramount. Thus emerged the Spring Development Bank (SDB), conceived by the National Unity Government (NUG) to finance the resistance effort. Since its inception in July of the same year, SDB has witnessed a meteoric rise, with a staggering 1,000 accounts opened on its inaugural day, swelling to a hundred thousand since. Embracing a guerrilla ethos akin to the People’s Defense Force (PDF), SDB operates as a fully digital bank, leveraging cutting-edge blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.

    Under the guidance of seasoned guerrillas and with the backing of Tin Tun Naing, the planning minister of the anti-junta government-in-exile, SDB navigates a complex landscape. Securing approval from the exiled government’s “central bank” lends legitimacy to SDB’s operations, assuring customers of its formal governance structure and safeguarding against fraud.

    While SDB’s primary mission is to finance the resistance, its secondary objective is equally ambitious: choking off financial support to the military regime. This multifaceted approach involves disrupting tax collection mechanisms, swaying public sentiment against junta-backed financial products, and isolating the regime from the global currency exchange network, resulting in the freezing of Myanmar’s state assets in numerous countries.

    Operating primarily on cryptocurrencies, SDB accommodates transactions in over ten currencies, including the US dollar and the Thai baht, facilitating international transfers. Through innovative financial instruments like treasury bonds issued via the “bazaar,” the NUG raised over $100 million last year, a significant portion of which flowed through SDB. Notably, the bank’s savvy investment strategy saw a swift $10 million windfall from the sale of a ten percent stake in November, underscoring its pivotal role in fueling Myanmar’s guerrilla warfare to its current zenith.

    NUG’s unconventional asset trading sparks controversy and profit

    The revelation that Myanmar’s government-in-exile, the National Unity Government (NUG), is actively trading the country’s assets despite lacking physical presence in key administrative centers has sparked widespread surprise and debate. The genesis of this audacious move stemmed from the NUG’s initiation of an official fundraising campaign, which ingeniously involved the virtual auctioning of real estate belonging to prominent military figures, including junta leader Min Aung Hlaing. Armed with the requisite documentation, NUG officials assured buyers that, upon the success of the Spring Revolution, ownership of these properties would be transferred to them. This initiative gained significant traction, resulting in the sale of numerous properties and netting the guerrilla administration a staggering $150 million.

    An enticing aspect of this program is the symbiotic relationship it fosters, whereby buyers supporting the guerrilla cause stand to reap personal benefits. Moreover, strategic pre-sale of mineral resources underscores the multifaceted nature of the guerrilla economy, which extends beyond virtual transactions.

    Despite facing allegations of coercion associated with these measures, the NUG’s financial prowess remains dwarfed by that of the junta. While the guerrillas can now allocate up to $5 million monthly for warfare endeavors, the junta’s budget eclipses this figure manifold. Nevertheless, the guerrillas’ sustained financial support presents an enduring challenge for the military regime.

    The NUG further exerted economic pressure on the junta by calling for a boycott of products and organizations affiliated with military-run companies, denting the regime’s fiscal resilience. The subsequent decline in domestic production capacity and the depreciation of the kyat against the US dollar have exacerbated the junta’s financial woes, concurrently bolstering the value of cryptocurrencies—yielding dual benefits for the guerrillas, particularly through the Spring Development Bank (SDB).

    As the Tatmadaw’s grip on border regions with neighboring countries wanes, its revenue from cross-border trade diminishes, while guerrilla groups capitalize on various legal and illicit enterprises in these areas to bolster their income. Although non-Bamar guerrillas stand to benefit most from these revenues, the Bamar-led PDF maintains cordial relations with them. This erosion of junta control over border trade augurs well for the NUG’s economic strategy, signaling a shifting tide in Myanmar’s tumultuous landscape.

    Diverse avenues of support fuel Myanmar’s resistance

    Innovative fundraising strategies have become the lifeblood of Myanmar’s resistance movement, epitomizing the manifold ways individuals contribute to the cause. Leveraging the widespread popularity of lotteries in the country, the National Unity Government (NUG) commenced issuing lottery tickets as a means of garnering financial support since the onset of guerrilla warfare. While the proceeds from these lotteries may not constitute a substantial sum, they nonetheless provide crucial funding and inflict a dent in the junta’s fundraising endeavors, illustrating the guerrillas’ resourcefulness in circumventing obstacles.

    Local artists, recognizing their role as stakeholders in Myanmar’s struggle, are contributing to the cause by auctioning their artworks through social media platforms. Simultaneously, Myanmar expatriates residing in countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and Japan are organizing musical events and marketing cultural merchandise, including T-shirts and traditional products, to mobilize financial resources. Even homemade noodles find their way into these fundraising efforts, symbolizing the grassroots solidarity that propels the resistance forward.

    In the realm of technology, young entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the popularity of Myanmar-themed mobile games to generate revenue for the cause, showcasing the diverse skillsets harnessed in the service of liberation.

    Crucially, the absence of “terrorist” designation for Myanmar’s guerrilla groups in Europe and the US facilitates the mobilization of public funds from supporters without hindrance. These funds not only sustain arms procurement from illicit markets but also sustain vital services such as healthcare and education within liberated territories, and incentivize defections from the government’s ranks. This collective effort transcends ethnic boundaries, with Bamars, Karens, Kachins, and Rakhines alike rallying behind the cause, symbolizing a unified front against oppression.


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