By Bihari Krishna Shrestha
While the buzz is on in Kathmandu about PM Oli’s upcoming participation in the prestigious World Economic Forum inDavos, Switzerland beginning next week, a section of media and opinion makers have hailed this a rare and glorifying invite and a great opportunity for showcasing Nepal’s achievements such as restoring peace and stability, resolving decade-long conflict and mainstreaming the insurgents, restructuring the nation into federal setup and successfully holding nationwide elections, with the nation now poised for promoting growth and prosperity under PM Oli’s flagship slogan of Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepalese.
The Davos Forum itself is billed as “the foremost gathering of top leaders from politics, business, civil society and academia to shape global, industry and regional agendas”. Expected participants include CEOs and chairs of “1,000 Partner and Member companies” and “more than 250 political leaders from the G20 and other countries and heads of international organizations” among many others. Thus, the argument goes, Mr. Oli, who is scheduled to make an address and act as a panelist, has this great opportunity to impress this most elite of world gatherings with Nepal’s achievements and make a strong pitch for augmented international interest and investment in Nepal.
The central theme of the upcoming Annual Meeting 2019 is “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”is divided into half a dozen major “inter-related areas” such as geopolitics , future of the economy, industry systems, human capital, cyber security and institutional reform. Recommendations and proposals from these “Global Dialogues” are to be integrated into the Forum’s “14 System Initiatives” of the organization. Clearly, they are not only relevant for Nepal but could also be an effective vehicle for its much-needed redemption. Thus, PM Oli’s participation in this Meeting means that Nepal is, for once, blessed with the opportunity to enjoy thelimelight at the world stage, and it is in such a context that PM Oliis expected to deliver.
However, by and large, the fact remains that in large international gatherings, it is very difficult for a small and chronically impoverished country like Nepal to be seriously taken and properly heard for several reasons. First it has to do with the quality of the delegate himself, basically his ability to properly express himself in a manner that is both staunchly professional and pleasing at the same time. This has always been a major factor in the effectiveness of participation in a world forum, more so, for smaller countries compared to major powers like US and China who, by virtue of their very might, attract world attention to whatever they have to say.
Then, there is the issue with message. The audience is more interested in the narratives of actual accomplishments in honestly bringing happiness and prosperity to one’s own people. In today’s world devoid of major wars, this has been the yardstick of international respectability at the world stage. For instance, China is more respected worldwide for its historic achievement of bringing its vast masses out of poverty than the military might she has developed in the meantime. For the same reason, India’s much vaunted democracy is ridiculed as being “a luxury paid for by the poor, in the indefinite extension of their poverty”. Given the IT explosion in the world, these info are available to anybody anywhere in the world, and certainly, all of those attending the World Forum.
Clearly, this is where PM Oli would be at a disadvantage. For one thing, Nepal has been a case in which globalization has had an overwhelming influence for better as well as for worse. The good part has been that with unrestricted movement of capital and labouracross international borders being one of the hallmarks of globalization, Nepal’s unemployed millions have been able to find income and employment opportunities in foreign lands and provided the country too with much needed foreign exchange to keep its balance of payments in the black, despite our trade deficit conditions being extraordinarily acute and increasingly worse.
However, the worse part of the onslaught is that while demographic dividend has been the main playmaker in the accelerated development of most developed countries in the world, Nepal, due to this massive exodus of its workforce, remains deprived of just this vital factor that is being appropriated by other labour importing countries. Most other advanced countries massively benefited from their demographic dividend on their way to achieving prosperity. So, even as their population aged, they also became prosperous. Japan and now China are the most glaring example in our vicinity. But, by all accounts, Nepal is headed to be a different and sorry case in this regard. With advances in health services, our population too is beginning to age. So, all indications are that Nepal too is going to age even as the country would continue to languish in abysmal poverty, generating further downstream disadvantages of their own kind.
This issue has enormous ramifications in terms of politics, geopolitics, management capacity building and improved governance, all of them being the issues of interest for the upcoming World Economic Forum meeting. But PM Oli would have very little to say as to what his government tried to do in this respect. While all-out corruption and the resulting utter mismanagement of state affairs have always remained the hallmark of our democratic experience from day one of 1990 multiparty restoration, anybody in the Davos gathering would know this with one single touch on their iPhone screens. Despite what PM Oli would in all probability be bragging about in terms of successful elections and all that, they would know them to be mostly hot air from a demagogue from Nepal, because they would also be in the know that Mr. Oli was instrumental in imposing mindless federalization on the country for his own selfish political ends. They would also know that in the impoverished Himalayan enclave that he represents, every single politician at all levels of governance remains a corrupt man or woman. They would also know that Mr. Olileaves behind in Nepal his government that is now deeply enmeshed in one of history’s biggest corruption scandal regarding billions siphoned off in the purchase of two wide body aircrafts. He also presides over a government that has suppressed transitional justice for the victims of the Maoist killing spree and has instead installed its ringleaders as the kingpin in his government even as the victims of their war crimes and human rights abuses continue to be denied justice. The country’s economy continues to be in doldrums. While agriculture remains traditional and subsistence, contributes only about one-fourth of the nation’s GDP, it remains overcrowded with some 70 percent of its workforce “engaged” in it. Manufacturing sector, otherwise the biggest generator of non-agrarian employment, remains miniscule chronically. Health and education programmes remain in shambles. And in all likelihood, Dr. Govind KC would still be in hunger strike against the mafia-friendly health education bill and the country being increasingly paralyzed in his support. While Davos brings together the who-is-who from the world over, they would all realize that by all accounts Nepal is assured of remaining a least developed country at the hands of politicians such as Mr. Olifor all times to come. And then, in spite of all these negatives for the hapless people, Mr. Oli would be there still bragging about Nepal being a “democracy” with him presiding over the two-third majority in parliament, even as the rest of the participants would be left wondering about the obvious paradox. All these add up to one thing in the end: PM Oli’s participation in the Davos Forum would essentially be nothing less than a day of reckoning for the politicians failing Nepal’s democracy.