The People’s Movement in 1990 erupted because for three decades of partylessness, Nepalis could not let off steam and socio-political pressure had been building up.
We got a constitutional monarchy, the parties were unbanned, the mass media was unshackled. And soon enough, we started using our newfound freedoms to complain about the king and queen. When the Maoists took the country to war, we complained about the violence.
After the ceasefire of 2006, we were not happy about the restoration of peace – we started complaining about the political transition. Our constant moaning and groaning probably prolonged that transition.
Then the earthquake struck in 2015, and even as the aftershocks rocked us, we whined about the relief being poorly distributed, and the slow pace of reconstruction. We then had the Indian blockade to complain about. And as soon as the 2017 election was over, we started criticising the very leaders we had just elected to power.
We were about to run out of things to complain about when there was the COVID-19 pandemic, and we could complain about the lockdown and the corruption in the procurement of medical supplies and the government’s general incompetence.
It is human nature. Like most people around the world, Nepalis are never happy with the state of affairs. In fact, we do not score very high in the Happiness Index. That itself is a positive thing because it means we know there is plenty of room for improvement. Things can always be better. That is the whole idea behind the need to see the world as half full.
Remember the days when there were 16 hour power cuts every day? Now that there is surplus power, we are complaining that the electricity we generate is going waste. What to do with it? Where to sell it?
There was a time in the 1980s when the proponents of the Himalayan Degradation Theory predicted that Nepal would be a desert by the turn of the century. Here we are four decades later, and Nepal has doubled forest cover. We have almost a quarter of our area designated as national parks, and 15% of Nepal is covered in community-managed forests.
Enrollment in school is nearly 100%, infant and maternal mortality have seen dramatic reductions. Absolute poverty has been halved in 25 years. The education we got and the remittance economy has exposed many Nepalis to jobs all around the world, and the quality of life for many have improved with the money sent home.
Yet we complain that our youth are away. But that is also good because the end goal should be to create jobs for them at home.
There are many products in the market that require energy to produce. If Nepal is to select a few of these and manufacture them near our many hydropower plants, we could become productive and competitive.
In Birganj, for example, there are truck loads of metal sheets coming in from India. They are rolled into pipes and poles, and sent back out. This is the value added for Nepal’s abundant, clean, reliable energy.
Entrepreneurs will begin to look for energy production sites where goods can also be produced. We will then see how education will be valued in these areas because it means jobs at the local level. We will no longer have the debate about exporting energy, and sending Nepali youth abroad to prop up the remittance based economy. Local agriculture will have a local market. Nepalis will also understand the true meaning of Value Added Tax.
We can use spilled hydropower at night to pump water for to irrigate farms and boost food production, and during the day use the water to generate power. This is the chance for an entrepreneur to set up a factory to manufacture rice cookers and electric kettles so we reduce our reliance on imported LPG.
Nepal’s poverty related problems can be solved with political will. Nepal’s problems are simple and so are their solutions. Unfortunately, we like to complicate things so we can seek complicated solutions. It is almost as if we want to remain poor so we keep getting grants for poverty alleviation, so our experts and consultants have jobs. It is precisely because we have only complained and not implemented solutions over the past seven decades that we would rather export manpower than value-added good and services.
Historically we have always described Nepal with what we do not have. For example, we do not have access to the sea. Or the terrain is not easy. These were always top reasons given for why we remain poor, rather than look at poor governance and mediocre leadership.
More and more Nepalis now live in comfortable homes, drive fancy cars, send their children to the best schools. And yet we complain. Human progress is about not being content and wanting things to improve. There is so much to do as we move ahead whether you see the glass half empty, or half full. It is time to take the lead and move ahead.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc. This is his last written column, he will now be hosting a fortnightly Anil’s Walkabout video program on the Nepali Times YouTube channel.