In the Highlands of Vietnam the M’nong minority ethnic group of the Dak Nong province is barely surviving between economic difficulties and chaotic schooling.
No-one is interested in the Dak Nong province of Vietnam. With its ridiculous GDP, equivalent to a tenth of the national average, and a growth rate similar to that of Ghana – high, but not translated into meaningful social development – Dak Nong remains a largely agricultural province and one of the most untouched of Vietnam.
However in modern Vietnam the intention is that no area remains untouched. In Dak Nong public subsidies and money from corruption have contributed to the construction industry taking off over a couple of years. Yet, the ethnic minorities, which represent in some communities between 30% and 80% of the population, are subjected in the 21st century to a transformation of their forest and agrarian cover without then having access to the means of adaptation. Even the elephants no longer want Dak Nong, Thi, a student friend, tells me that in the past it was common to cross one on the way home from school.
Who knows Dak Nong?
This unknown province, created in 2003, borders Cambodia. The M’nong minority can be found on both sides of the border. Before 1975 Dak Nong belonged to South Vietnam and was called Quang Duc. Conquered by the Viet Cong the area was riddled with napalm bombs and phosphorus during the American war: not one road, not one building escaped the destruction. Thi, who is accompanying me, remembers that until 1994 there was nothing to link Dak Nong to Saigon. This devastated region was then administratively incorporated to the province of Dak Lak, spearhead of the agricultural planning in the Highlands.
With the explosion of agricultural exportation in Dak Lak, the entire region has since become very attractive to the farmers of North Vietnam, the original economic refugees of the nineties. In 2003 the government decided to cut this enormous province into two with the idea that with twice the administration in the region it would allow close regulation of the of the Highlands new riches. This therefore resulted in Dak Nong and its administrative centre, Gia Nghia.
Gia Nghia is a new and disproportionate city, a demonstration of soviet delusions of grandeur. This administrative centre is built in area with so few people that one has to wonder what kind of activity goes on in the enormous public buildings. The post office is in an L shape with 4 floors and looks like a barrack. Seen from a distance the lighting on a section of the motorway leading to the heart of Gia Nghia is so spectacular that one has to ask for an instant if it is not a runway; such enormousness for the approach to a town so under-populated! Outside this exaggeratedly concrete kilometre, the roads have remained unfinished for a long time. The subsidies allocated to the infrastructures have clearly been embezzled. This is however of little concern, as who cares about Dak Nong amongst the Vietnamese? Who even knows of Dak Nong? Is it because the region is ignored that it has become an area where fraud seems so easy to hide?
For further investigation into the situation in Dak Nong and responses to some of the questions posed here, come back for parts 2 and 3 in the upcoming days.
Report by Anh Duong. Previously published in Enfants du Mekong magazine No175.