Political opponents were imprisoned for long periods by the military regime, the media was heavily censored and minorities suppressed. Human rights campaigner, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept under house arrest for more than 20 years.
But things have changed dramatically. Suu Kyi is now a free person who is allowed to campaign for public office. Political prisoners have been freed and dialogue has been opened with combatant minorities.
And, the world has responded; Burma is no longer the pariah state it was only a few months ago. The European Union on Friday lifted targeted sanctions against Burmese officials including President Thein Sein. In doing so the EU was acknowledging the major strides Burma has made in returning to normality.
Zimbabwe, like Burma, has been a pariah nation for a decade. On Friday, the EU moved to ease travel bans on some 51 officials who had been on the targeted sanctions list. The EU, as in the Burma case, said this was in recognition of the moves the government was making towards creating an atmosphere conducive to the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections.
It has not removed President Robert Mugabe from the list but will review the sanctions in six months’ time.
There are two possible ways in which Zanu PF will receive this EU move: triumphalism or accommodation. They might see the latest move as a victory for them because, they could argue, the European bloc has seen the folly of its ways. A more reasonable way would be to embrace the carrot and take more steps forward to avoid the stick as the Burmese military strongmen have done.
There will be lots of Zanu PF propaganda about the EU move in the next six months but the truth of the matter is that the party doesn’t have lots of room to manoeuvre. It has to open dialogue with EU and return the country to the community of nations.