Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, was a pragmatic and visionary leader who set a mission for changing the economy of the post-independent country, keeping social equity at the forefront in his thoughts. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's development dream was to build a prosperous Bangladesh, free from poverty, hunger, corruption and exploitation. His vision was to establish Sonar Bangla that he ingrained in his heart throughout his life. The phrase 'Sonar Bangla' was very common in the speeches and writings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib well before the independence of Bangladesh. 'Sonar Bangla' was not a mere political rhetoric for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, but he dreamt it by his heart and soul. This aspiration was based on his perception about the past glory and fame of this land.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib knew that the country was in a dire situation after the liberation war as the invading army destroyed all of our infrastructure and endowments including organised killings of the intellectuals to make the country bankrupt economically and intellectually. But he also could comprehend the potential of the people that fought with hard determination to liberate our motherland. The brave people of Bangladesh have the fortitude to overcome all the hurdles and turn the tide to achieve his development dream. He was firm enough in uniting the people and led them towards the desired direction of inclusive development. His dream for a prosperous and inclusive Bangladesh was rightly reflected in the 1972 Constitution of the Republic. He was fully committed to lead the country in this direction and was well on his way. Within only a few years after independence, he succeeded in materialising the growth potential of Bangladesh to a significant extent.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib prepared a roadmap for a modern state based on the planned development and assembled all the important development practitioners and thought leaders. The First Five Year Plan (1973-1978) successfully embodied his dream of establishing the country as a role model of sustainable and inclusive development. This plan, as he called it, was a plan for reconstruction and development of the economy, taking into account the inescapable political, social and economic realities of Bangladesh (Foreword, First Five-Year Plan (1973-1978). Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib also mentioned, "A plan is not merely a technical and an economical document but also a sociopolitical document. It must be able to enthuse, mobilise and motivate people. It must provide with a vision and perspective for the nation." (The First Five Year Plan (1973-78) of Bangladesh). Within a short period of three years and a half, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib set the golden path of a nation towards prosperity through socio-economic upliftment. Unfortunately, the country lost her golden son, as the anti-liberation forces aided by international conspirators killed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and almost all members of his family when he was about to embark on the journey to take the country to a massive development pathway.
The legacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib is now being carried forward with the able and farsighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, paving the way to fulfillment of a long-cherished dream of Sonar Bangla by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib. Under her able leadership, Bangladesh has moved forward to a lower- middle income country and aspires to achieve a status of a developed country by 2041. Bangladesh is now well on course to achieve its development aspirations towards becoming a prosperous country and this vision document is a cherished road map of that.
In this 21st century, there is one indisputable phenomenon. The pace of change is rapid, and often transformational. Over the next half-century, Bangladesh economy and society will have to cope with transformational shifts in trade and industry, in education and healthcare, in transportation and communication, and in the way we work and conduct business; and change will come with so much rapidity that unless the society prepares to address these oncoming impacts of transformation, we might be once again left in the backwaters of the new global order of things.
Hence, it is only apt that the nation should gear itself to be fully prepared to address the challenges head on and seize opportunities with vigour, so that future generations of Bangladeshis take their rightful place in the comity of nations with high-income and advanced societies. All this should happen by mid-century, within a climate-resilient and eco-friendly geographical region. That is the embedded and ultimate goal of designing the next twenty-year perspective plan for the period 2021-2041. Bangladesh will be a developed country by 2041, with per capita income of over $12,500 in today's prices, and fully in tune with the digital world. Poverty will become a thing of the past in Sonar Bangla.
Bangladesh as the "poster-child" of development is a significant upgrade from the 1970s ubiquitous stamp of "a test case of development". Bangladesh today is a shining example of a development miracle, having earned international acclaim on its tremendous success in attaining SDGs, particularly in the areas of poverty alleviation, food security, gender parity in primary and secondary education, infant and under-five mortality, and maternal mortality. The gains in human development could now further fuel economic growth through a virtuous circle and positive synergies. Thus, the economy is poised for higher attainments. Understandably, the challenges are formidable, calling for robust strategies and steadfast policy commitment all the way.
The global business community now recognizes Bangladesh as a nation of dynamic first-generation industrial entrepreneurs who can compete with established players in the world market. The export performance of readymade garments (RMG) has been exemplary, and exporters are breaking into new markets with new products such as ocean-going vessels, consumer electronics, footwear and a variety of home appliances.
Building on this progress, the nation is marching on to move up to Upper Middle-Income country (UMIC) by 2031 and attain High Income Country (HIC) status by 2041. All this will be possible as Bangladesh moves to harness its vast population resource by converting its demographic dividend into formidable human capital for future transformation of the economy and society.
Bangladesh is also acutely aware of the vulnerabilities it faces from its deltaic geography, environmental degradation from population pressure, and climate change. Therefore, maintaining environmental and ecological balance throughout the development process remains and will remain a cardinal policy principle. Accordingly, the Dream Document 2041 seeks to ensure the long-term sustainability of growth through the adoption of a green growth strategy that fully reconciles growth, technological transformation, poverty reduction, and environmental protection within a sound macroeconomic framework that enshrines fiscal prudence imbued with growth dynamism.
The transition – indeed transformation – can be realised through a process of rapid inclusive growth leading to the elimination of poverty while increasing the productive capacity, building an innovative knowledge economy and protecting the environment. The cornerstone of an inclusive and sustainable development strategy is a robust program of job creation through export-oriented manufacturing growth backed by digital technology of the knowledge economy while ensuring that the key natural resources like land, water, forestry, natural habitat and air are used in a manner that avoids their depletion and degradation.
No doubt the country now faces daunting challenges. The transformation will be taking place in the context of a global economy that is undergoing profound change, creating opportunities but also facing serious downside risks from economic, political and social conflicts and climate change. A fast-paced technological revolution, the digital age, is ongoing that will eventually change the way we live, work, and interact with the global community. Against this positive development, the resurgence of nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th-century variety in many advanced economies and the rising risks of global conflicts, particularly the Russia-Ukraine war, are threatening to disrupt global trade, commerce and finance.
Over the next 18 years, Bangladesh's socio-economic transformation will be much more fundamental than anything experienced in the past 20 years. Properly harnessing and negotiating the positive global forces to advantage and ability to counter the adverse factors will enable Bangladesh to grow at higher rates in future that was simply not possible before. A strong positive growth-generating factor is the aspirations of poor people for upward mobility. In these evolving circumstances, building an inclusive society with shared prosperity in a sustainable manner will require ever-greater ingenuity, innovative strategies, strong institutions, social equity and participation, and good command over cutting-edge technologies to unleash the full potential of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to create good jobs and grow the economy out of poverty and on to prosperity.
To make all this happen, programs and institutions will have to be put in place to generate rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth. By 2041, the expectation is that the economy will have joined the ranks of High-Income countries when poverty will be a thing of the past, people will have access to universal healthcare, under-employment and low-income will have been eliminated, the population will be literate and endowed with the knowledge of the latest technology in all spheres of economic activity (particularly in education, industry and services). And all this will be achieved without damaging the environment so that land, water, rivers and forestry resources are preserved, and citizens have access to clean air, safe water, green space and biodiversity.
In the interim, Bangladesh will have crossed a major threshold – graduating out of the LDC (Least Developed Countries) status in 2026. Becoming a non-LDC and graduating from the current status of 'lower-middle-income' country to an 'upper-middle-income' country by 2031 is not the same, and therefore, avoiding the 'middle-income trap' would be a forthcoming challenge.
On top of all these, attaining the stiff targets of SDGs by 2030 would be a challenging task for Bangladesh. The changing global and regional scenarios resulting from the consequences of war appear to be much more challenging. All these suggest that Bangladesh must make some extraordinary efforts in its economic and social development process in the days to come. Particularly, we must exploit trade potential to the full, improve human resources and accrue technological breakthroughs.
Dr Shamsul Alam is the Minister of State, Ministry of Planning, and a Member of the Advisory Committee, Bangladesh Awami League.