About Burma

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar 

Myanmar (Burma) is the largest country by area in mainland Southeast Asia. Stretching from the Andaman Sea, past the Bay of Bengal and up to the Himalayan Mountain range in the north, the country shares land borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. Burma is hugely diverse with many different ethnicities found across the country, especially in the highland areas around the borders that surround the central lowland areas.

Accurate statistics and demographics are incredibly difficult to obtain in Myanmar as large parts of the country have not been consistently controlled by the central government or military. These statistics are from the Myanmar 2014 national census[i] and UNFPA reports[ii] and must be taken only as an approximation. At the time of the 2014 census large parts of Northern Rakhine state, Kachin state, parts of Karen state were not able to be included.

Official Language: Burmese
Total Population: 51.4 million +
Rural Population 70%
Literacy rate 89.5%

Theravada Buddhism 87.9%
Christianity 6.2%
Islam 4.3%
Other 1.6%
There are 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government. There are other groups not included in the official list of ethnic groups or, Tain Yin Tha, and so are not included in census results. Rough estimates of the demographics put Bamar as the majority ethnic group, followed by Shan, Karen, Burmese Chinese, Mon, Kayah, Rakhine, and Kachin, respectively.


Current Government:[iv]
National Unity Government (NUG) in exile.
– Aung San Suu Kyi – State Councilor (Arrested)
– U Win Myint – President (Arrested)

– Duwa Lashi La – Acting President

– Mahn Winn Khaing Thann – Prime Minister

Military junta: The Military Council who illegitimately took power through the coup on February 1, 2021. They call themselves the State Administration Council (SAC) but are often referred to as the Tatmadaw, Military coup council, or the Military council.
– Min Aung Hlaing – Chairman
– Soe Win – Vice Chairmen
– Aung Lin Dwe – Secretary
– Ye Win Oo – Joint Secretary
(as of January 2024)

The term Bamar refers to the largest ethnic group in the country who during various different empires and dynasties controlled the central lowland regions of the country. The exact borders of the country, now known as Myanmar or Burma, have always been permeable and changing. The Taungoo kingdom in the 16th Century was the largest Burmese empire, stretching from Manipur, India, down into Cambodia; but at different points in history there has been the Mon speaking Hanthawaddy Kingdom who controlled large parts of lower Burma, The Kingdom of Mrauk-U that controlled parts of Rakhine state and Chittagong in Bangladesh; and the Shan Sawbwas, rulers of territories in the Shan highlands. The dominance of the ethnic groups in the highlands meant that the regional ruling Kingdoms either did not control these areas or they had to engage diplomatically with local rulers meaning rarely, if ever, was the land comprising present-day Myanmar ever consistently ruled by a central state.

The British invaded in three stages, first taking some coastal areas and eventually colonizing the entire country and deposing the ruling King Thibaw in 1885. After the three Anglo-Burmese wars with the British over the 19th Century Burma was colonized and incorporated into ‘British India’. During the colonial era the British administration drew out the borders of Burma that on the maps mostly remain the same today. However, in reality the land within Myanmar’s borders has never been fully controlled or unified by a central government. Instead, large swaths of the highlands and border regions remain to this day under control of various ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) out of reach from the central military council.

Independence hero General Aung San united some of the different ethnic groups to join The Union of Burma to fight for independence at the famous Panlong Agreement. This agreement was supposed to allow for eventual “Full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas”, after independence. Burma gained its independence in 1948, however that autonomy was never granted, causing many ethnic groups to fight against the central government. In 1962 General Ne Win took power in a coup that would lay the groundwork for the separation of military and civilian society. The rule of the junta continued for decades, despite the popular uprisings in 1988 and 2007, until the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide election in 2015.

The military managed to keep a significant power for themselves, writing into the constitution that the military must make up 25% of the seats in parliament, as well as keeping control of the ministries concerning defense, the interior, and border security. Military generals and cronies still controlled a lot of businesses operating in the country and faced no accountability for their crimes. During this period the military council still carried out attacks and brutal killings, most notably in Rakhine state against the Rohingya, Kachin and Shan State, and several other regions. Hundreds of political prisoners were persecuted despite the new democratic elected government, and civilians were still being arrested for violating controversial and outdated colonial and military junta era laws.

After another successful election victory for the NLD at the end of 2020, the military, headed by Min Aung Hlaing, seized power on the morning of February 1, 2021. The military arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and declared the elections to be unfair. The elected law makers from the 2020 election formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) which acted as the country’s legitimate democratic legislative body. The CPRH then created the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s legitimate elected government based on the 2020 elections. The NUG, mostly made up of NLD members, have to operate in exile via online video meetings. The people of Myanmar took to the streets to protest the military Junta and were violently suppressed and arrested; many were killed and injured. This led to the CDM, or Civil Disobedience Movement, in which many government workers, teachers, and doctors went on strike. The similarly brutal crackdown on CDM protestors led many people to take up arms against the military, forming People’s Defense Forces (PDFs).

Currently (as of January 2024) the country is in the middle of a revolutionary civil war on multiple fronts with multiple armed groups, consisting of civilian government forces, militias, and ethnic armed groups, against the military council. The PDFs are cooperating with Ethnic armed groups with decades of experience fighting the Military Junta. The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) drew up a federal charter that promises to create a federal country, indicating a willingness for substantive structural change on the side of the civilian government. The initial spirit and momentum of the Spring Revolution from February 2021, remains just as strong today and the fight for a democratic society continues.


[i] Myanmar’s 2014 census results https://themimu.info/census-data

[ii] UNFPA data also from 2014 census https://www.unfpa.org/data/MM

[iii] MIMU Data set of religion, 2014 https://www.themimu.info/baseline-datasets

[iv] National Unity Government’s official website https://www.nugmyanmar.org/en/