Challenges Ahead

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Challenges Ahead

Nepal never had to confront poverty as seen in some of the countries in Africa. But despite that, Nepal has gone through many social and political conflicts.

--BY JAGDISH PRASAD AGRAWAL

What are the top six common agendas before a citizen of any country worldwide? A survey conducted among 40,000 respondents aged 12 and older in Australia, China, Brazil, France, Germany, U.K., India, Indonesia, Kenya, Maxico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and the U.S.A i.e. covering all the continents found the major issues confronting people today are: 

  • Ending poverty - 33%
  • Improving education -30%
  • Access to jobs - 29%
  • Promoting health - 26%
  • Economic fairness - 23%
  • Ending confl icts - 19%

Irrespective of the developmental bar of the above countries strewn over all the continents of the world, and against the back drop of their political and economic struggles waged for the alleviation and improvement in the above fields for the last eight decades after the second world war, the political system prevailing in these countries have failed to address these issues speedily. The challenges exist in each of them whether developed or developing. The outcome of the above survey can be extrapolated to other countries as well and it can be safely assumed that these agendas represent the status globally. In some of the countries these issues are so grim that they are on the verge of collapse. The hue and colour of the political system does have an impact on speeding up improvements, it cannot be categorically said that a particular hue is conducive for or against the success or failure of today’s status.

The end of the second world war was the beginning of the emergence of independent states which till then were the colonies of European powers like UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium etc but not only that it was a period of polarization of power into two blocks led by USA and USSR. Most of the newly formed nations directly or indirectly owed allegiance to one of these blocks. However, irrespective of their political allegiance, the over whelming economic strategy of these emerging nations was influence of the soviet style state controlled socialism. 

Till the collapse of the soviet block the rate of growth in these countries remained stuck in the vicinity of an average of 4 percent annually. It was only with the collapse of the soviet block and the end of the cold war that the space created by receding and disenchanting halo of soviet type socialism was filled by the concept of liberalism, market-driven economy, rule of law and an orderly systematic developmental economic process as practiced in western countries. This phase of almost four decades of experimenting with the leftist, socialistic strategies in most of these countries along with their struggle for political stability deprived them of the speed which could have been theirs had they been driven then by today’s open and liberal concepts.

But then it is ironical that the western countries which always led the liberal movement by opposing any state controls and intervention had their bagful of problems also during the period in terms of recession and depression. In either of the systems, the people suffered, their standard of living eroded and unemployment rose resulting in poor health, education and social conflicts. The low income group underwent upheavals in their earnings. The inflation made them poorer and the states were not in a position to compensate them to recover their purchasing power.

Though the problem surfaced in both systems, the liberal economic order was more resilient and hence the countries sitting on the fence chose to shift to this road. This was the period of total disenchantment not only with soviet style political system but also leftist thinking of social and economic development climaxing in China’s total transformation into a market economy. An era of speed set in, which continues even today. Speed came centre-stage. Speed started deciding strategies. Technology of the west took-over. The political profile also started to be decided in favour of an inclusive system of democracy which the market economy advocated as a pre-condition for its success. 

It is observed that coupled with democratic norms and the liberalism of the market the rate of attention to the above enumerated agenda accelerated and much improvement has been achieved in this phase. It is not to discredit the foundation of such improvements laid during the first phase of state control, but the second phase has seen accelerated speed in addressing them. Democracy has played a very constructive and positive role in ameliorating the poor living conditions in these countries in the last two decades and has been vouched by many surveys also. The countries which still lag behind are those which are still afflicted by political instability factionalism, tribalism and other such political maladies. 

Secularism has also been found to be a positive characteristic as opposed to fundamentalism in some of the countries, which deprives them of some of the tools of modern thinking and participation in social upliftment. People’s participation in selecting and monitoring the developmental projects and acting as watch dogs on public spending definitely optimises the allocation of scarce financial resources and improves the productivity of invested capital by putting a curb on corruption in public life. Market economy in a democratic milieu is the right combination for the speeding up the amelioration process to address the six common agendas that leaders face today.

The world has come a long way in alleviating and improving on all the above issues in the last two decades. The New York Times reported that the “huge gap in the number of people living on less than USD 1.90 per day is among the most underappreciated and most important developments of our generation.” Though laudable from the statistical point of view it is inconceivable that a person earning around USD 2 per day will be able to remain healthy, be educated and have access to a respectable job. 

Not only that, the trend in poverty alleviation seems to be stagnating. It is projected that over 500 million people will always remain in extreme poverty because in some of the countries the poverty has become stubborn due to violent conflicts, weak government, extreme climate change, poor health and educational infrastructure. These countries also have a high rate of population growth which is again directly proportional to the degree of poverty. It has become a vicious circle.

In Nepal, though a least developed country, the situation is not so dire. Our human index indicators are looking up. Health and educational infrastructures have expanded quantitatively across the whole country though qualitatively it does not compare positively to any standards. Access to jobs has remained a perennial agenda from time immemorial. Nepal has always found a solution to this issue in migration to neighboring countries to India and now to the Middle East and South Asian Countries. Nepal never had to confront poverty as seen in some of the countries in Africa. 

But despite that, Nepal has gone through many social and political conflicts. The last of which continued for almost a decade with a toll of almost 20,000 lives lost. Though the conflict has ended and the political stability restored, many left over issues exist in the social and political arena simmering among the people. It cannot be guaranteed that such conflicts will not recur as the county faces enormous problems in the form of corruption, inequitable distribution of wealth through a nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors, in resource crunch and over- dependence on foreign donors for its developmental efforts. 

the slow growth rate of the last decade Nepal seems to be stepping into a faster trajectory but it is being argued if the high rate of growth can be sustained against the backdrop of the above maladies. The country has followed for the last two decades a market-driven economic strategy and recently adopted a new constitution which enshrines parliamentary democracy, federalism, secularism, an ideal and right combination for addressing the pending agenda of economic development of the people. But these concepts are new and their success requires commitment, patience and sacrifice. When democracy is at peril worldwide, whether these concepts can survive in Nepal or become the cause of conflict in future cannot be predicted now. At the Athens Democracy Forum last week, a conference convened by The New York Times from Sept 16th to 18th international leaders and policymakers debated and concluded that democracy in the western world is at peril; less than a third of American youths think it necessary to live in a democracy and in Europe the average vote share of the populist parties have doubled. These populist parties have sprung up recently based on the premise of people’s disenchantment with liberalism and migration. Whether in USA, France, Turkey, Hungry, Germany or even in India, is this populism attributed to economic stagnation, lack of jobs, the rise of technology etc? 

Under the circumstances, political systems which are not yet totally rooted in democratic principles could easily morph into dictatorships. This fragile nature of politics in emerging nations if derailed will eat into the programmes that have been launched for the alleviation of the poor economic condition of the people. This holds true for Nepal also. Our economy thrives on remittances, tourism, and the flow of pensions of the army personnel who have served in Indian and British armies. Migration becoming one core issue in most of the countries, it cannot be ruled out that the contradictory stance of encouraging emigration and controlling immigration can sustain itself for long. 

poor performance in creating jobs at home and the compulsion of generating more and more revenue from imports has landed us in such a precarious situation that any financial reforms worth taking cannot be risked for its adverse spin off in the short run. Populism which showed in the recent general election has become an albatross around the neck of the policy makers who are averse to taking any decision which the people may not like. The liberalism itself seems to be propelling the country to illiberal regimes in the future. The immediate response can be that the countries reject and blame the market economy, the liberal principles and democratic systems. In the words of John Kerry, former US secretary of state, “the challenges are real but there is every reason for optimism. History has proved time and again that adapting to changes in technology and society is stamped in the human DNA. Our global system demands renewal and reforms. If we treat it a relic of the past it will rust away and the future generation will pay the price. Nostalgia won’t defeat neo-populism: progress will”. In Nepal also we have to be on guard and not allow conservatism to replace the open society that we have built so far.

The world has also seen the perturbing phenomenon of how technology through social media can distort decisions in the wrong way and so will the artificial intelligence intervene/interfere in the privacy of the individuals and their domain of employment.These are new challenges and Nepal may posture and say that we are far from it but don’t be surprised if these challenges end up at our doorsteps sooner than anticipated. We cannot afford but be cautious.

The writer is Chairman Nimbus Group.

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