Many conversations these days about the coming 2020s decade for Nepal, somehow always turns to a debate about our past.
Usually it is the fatalists and those who have profited by sending Nepali workers and students abroad who use the lost opportunities about the past to make a case to justify their business. They make it a point to run down Nepal and its vast potential to move ahead in order to justify their argument that the best option is to leave.
Few still romanticise the past because that is where they had their space and comfort. Historical wrongs have taken place here, as they have all over the world. There are do-able ways to correct these injustices to ensure that we can coexist peacefully into the future. But for many, village life was that past and life in the city here and around the world is the future.
Attempts to get the discussion back to the future and the potential that Nepal has for growth and prosperity, often drift back into needless comparisons with other countries. Nepal can, should and needs to learn from other countries, but it is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.
The USA was partly built by slaves and the British enriched themselves by exploiting colonies. We do not have oil like the Gulf. We do not have a relatively homogenous society like Japan. What are we comparing, then when we compare Tokha to Tokyo, or Dhumbarahi to Dubai?
It is not helpful to take one narrow example and to extrapolate to generalise it as the universal development principle. Many study tours that Nepalis have taken are quite futile because they actually end up in raising a greater sense of helplessness.
The Nepali resolution for the 2020 decade has to be to built more on what we can be and not so much on the way we were. Lessons are useful, but what good is it to organise a donors’ meeting when we are actually seeking investments?
How useful are lessons on Leninism from the Soviet era? What is the use of planning for a fossil economy when the path ahead is clean and renewable energy? The world must resolve not to repeat the failure of the Madrid Climate Summit. The coming decade has to be about innovation and creativity that will benefit many more people who have been left behind.
A new decade has begun with many parts of Australia burning, the Persian Gulf is in a hair trigger, Europe and the UK have started divorce proceedings, and large cities in the most populated areas of the world like Jakarta and Venice are going underwater.
Yet, many Nepali migrants have chosen these very countries as where the grass is greener. Yes Nepal is plagued with political uncertainty, corruption, nepotism, and bad air quality. For Nepalis who migrated to New South Wales, it must feel like from the frying pan into the fire. In the USA many Nepali Americans face the possibility of being drafted into an escalating war.
If we stopped focusing on the past, making irrelevant comparisons, we could actually begin to look at Nepal’s future more objectively. For example, Nepal is an upstream country. This word is often not used to describe Nepal and what its comparative advantage could be. Being an upper riparian has numerous advantages and opens up all kinds of possibilities.
A country of 30 million is not small. And Nepal is not poor, just poorly governed. So let us stop describing ourselves as “a small and poor country”. Having a young population is not a liability but a historic opportunity that is the envy of rapidly-ageing countries like Japan.
One thing we will need while moving ahead is to restore our faith in ourselves. Recently, climbing the steps of Swayambhu a fellow-walker remarked, “If people went to work with the same faith as they do when they go to temples, Nepal would surely develop.”
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc.