The family’s initial fortune came from jute, a natural fiber that is used to make rope and twine. The jute factory was nationalized during the army’s disastrous adventure into socialism, after its first coup in 1962.
Burma, once praised for its beautiful schools and polyglot cosmopolitanism, has fallen into scarcity. The ruling junta renamed the country Myanmar.
Mr Jonathan Kyaw Thaung’s father was sent to Northern Ireland, where he escaped the deprivation of Myanmar. His siblings have dispersed to Thailand, Singapore, the United States and Great Britain. The family’s gracious villa in Yangon has gone moldy, as has the rest of the country.
But even though many of them traveled abroad, the family remained linked in Myanmar and traveled there to do business. Their return journey was made easier by the extensive family tree, which included high-ranking Tatmadaw officers, ministers, and confidants of junta leaders.
A cousin married U Zeyar Aung, a courteous English-speaking general who led the Northern Command and the 88th Light Infantry Division, both linked by the United Nations to decades of war crimes against Myanmar’s own people. He was then Minister of Railways, then Minister of Energy and then headed the National Investment Commission, while the Kyaw Thaung fought over military contracts.
Myanmar’s patronage networks are a tangle of roots that tie family trees together. Children of generals tend to marry in close circles, perhaps with other military descendants or the offspring of business buddies.
As the Tatmadaw began to loosen control of the economy, engaging in an inflammatory sale of assets that had once been the stronghold of the military, this elite class of well-connected people plunged into profit. . Mr Jonathan Kyaw Thaung, whose mother is Irish, returned to Myanmar, along with his siblings and cousins who had also been raised abroad.