First and foremost, I love Nepal. To the extend that I would very much like to live there for some time. The Himalayan country is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen with unmatched natural richness and people that one cannot withstand to love dearly. I’ve been there this year for almost five months and it feels like home somehow.
But I’m worried. Worried about the state the country is in. Nepal, often mentioned as one of the poorest countries in the world (as stated by many but in my view a misrepresentation of reality) has a multitude of problems. Most of them related to poverty. But by far the largest problem is the inability of Nepal politics to rule the country and rebuild it into a prospering south Asian state.
Over the weekend prime minister Jhalanath Khanal stepped down. In his words due to the lack of support for the peace process by the Nepal Congress party and the Maoist party. It’s an easy statement and although true in a sense it doesn’t address the real issues. Thing is, Nepal is desperate for a new constitution and has seen politicians battling over power and in the process make a mockery out of the development of that constitution. And a constitution is urgently needed in the country that in 2006 overthrew it’s monarch after a ten year civil war with Maoist insurgents. Since then the country lives in limbo.
In a country with some two hundred thousand refugees (Bhutanese, Tibetan and others) pushing on the economy (Nepal is both one of the poorest countries and one of the countries with the largest number of refugees according to the UN), in a country with by far the largest number of children, young girls and women being trafficked for prostitution, in a country with regular famine in remote areas as the result of bad infrastructure and bad logistics, in a country with problems with culture clashes between youth and older generations, in such a country there should at least be a number of politicians that take responsibility and push aside party lines to share efforts in building the nation.
But not so in Nepal. Politics is dominated by party wars and old men. Women are under represented and so is youth. Democracy is a farce in such a system as lots of people have been pushed away from politics due to the selfishness and power greed of many politicians. The whole situation concerning the writing of the new constitution is becoming totally ludicrous. Deadlines are repeatedly passed and pushed away and even committee members travel abroad for prolonged times while they’re supposed to work on the text of the constitution. It seems like many politicians only play lip service to the new constitution but frankly don’t give a damn if it ever gets finished. The constitution, being the legal infrastructure of the country, is being treated as the roadworks in Kathmandu. As things are now only travelling to Kathmandu will unveil reality. The Bagmati river is a merger of a garbage dump and sewer, roads are insufficient and in areas like Kirtipur the many beautiful new houses are in extreme contrast with the surrounding lack of infrastructure. Peoples interest seem only focussed on the area within their fences, as soon as one passes the doorstep one gets back in the usual Nepali infrastructural chaos. Does anyone really give a damn about the general interest? Does anyone really worry about the poor state roads, buildings, hospitals and other general facilities are in? It seems not. The constitution is unfortunately just like these unfinished roads. Bumpy, no pavement and to be unfinished forever.
And now, the prime minister stepped down, again leaving the country without a government and with little hope of a new order. The first thing he does is bash the other political parties in stead of looking at his own disability to get things done. In the meanwhile it’s shocking to see that there only a handful young politicians active in the Nepali parliament. The situation shows an important generation gap that is in line with the emotions and ambitions of many young people in Nepal: to find a live in the west and become rich.
Exceptions are there, but unfortunately they are not powerful enough to make a stand. In their respective parties they are sidelined by the older generation. An older generation that not only rules in their parties with iron fists but also grossly manipulate the media. Free press in Nepal is under constant pressure. Journalists are being attacked and although the guilty ones are known, nothing is done to arrest them. Newspapers are ‘owned’ by political parties with only a handful exceptions. Media manipulation goes hand in hand with censorship as the government tries to hold firm grip on visual media. Filming in Nepal can be done but when it’s about anything controversial it can only be done illegally. Current law still demands government film permits and ‘liaison officers’ to be present while filming and even insight in the resulting film material. Crazy, undemocratic and a direct threat to free journalism.
There is much that needs to change in Nepal. The people need a fresh new government that really addresses the many difficulties the country has. They are hungry for change and I guess that if that change doesn’t come any time soon, Nepal might very well end up in a chaos worse than during the civil war some years ago. But maybe all is not lost yet. Maybe young ambitious and above all honest and straight forward politicians stand up and let their voices be heard. Please let it be soon for that to happen.
Alice Verheij © 2011