October 9, 2009 Sujeev Shakya

Nepal Economy 101

Nepal has almost no good and untedious books on Nepali economy and business. Either they are extremely boring and monotonous, or too academic for normal readers. Many times, they are just too trivial to be cared for. And other times, the literature on economy are scattered in unfathomable government websites, donor reports, or some journals that nobody’s ever heard of.

Sujeev Shakya, a no-new name in Nepali business and media, attempts a shot at looking at the Nepali economy in an interesting way with historical perspectives and cultural ideas. And this time, it’s for normal readers, and not scholars who write on the effects of growth in labor force participation rate in rural economy in the Keynesian model of macroeconomics. Or else, we would not have bothered.

His book “Unleashing Nepal: Past, Present and Future of the Economy” (Penguin Books) is a compelling read of the economic history of Nepal with acute business and market understanding of the writer, with some elements of belligerent humor. It examines the checkered history of Nepali economy from a plain layman’s POV.

Sujeev needs no introduction. He is one of the best minds in Nepali business and economy. He has been writing a popular fortnightly column for the weekly Nepali Times under nom de plume ‘Arthabeed’ since 2001 that contains sharp economic analysis for the common people, with a tinge of humor and sarcasm.

But that is not just why he is one of the best minds in the business. He has been a business executive for more than two decades. He was the president of Bhotekoshi Power Company and Tara Management (earlier Soaltee Group Private Limited, famous for having shareholdings of former king Gyanendra Shah).

Last year, he quit everything to (probably write this book and) start his own management consulting and advisory firm called Beed Management with the youngest-brightest management crew in town. A recipient of Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, Sujeev also chairs the Nepal Economic Forum, a not-for-profit but private sector-led economic policy center, the first of its kind in Nepal.

His upcoming book is a work of his experiences and ideas. It records Nepal’s economic pathway from the time of its unification (beginning in the late 1760s), through the autocratic Panchayat regime (1960-90) to the experiments with democracy (1950 and 1990) and the ‘conflictonomics’ of the decade-long Maoists uprising (launched in 1996), while the country becomes more dependent on foreign aid, and large portions of the nation’s economy running almost solely on labor-driven remittances.

Interesting figures stand tall in his book: the night watchman in India, the laborer in the desert of Middle East, corrupt and selfish aristocrat of the past, dubious foreign aid worker, modestly venal civil servant, and global Nepali youth.

“Mentionable portions of Nepal’s economic history begins in the 20th century only as it remained a closed nation, and till the opening of the economy in 1990, there has not been anything remarkable apart from the elite capture of business,” says 41-year-old Sujeev, and comments that the writings have been more focussed on critical post-mortem by non-Nepali consultants paid for money due to aid-laden economy of the landlocked country.

He who likes to call himself a “business executive with a societal conscience,” Sujeev saw the need for a book on Nepali business and economy when he started getting tremendous response after writing a 17-page essay titled “The squandering of a promising economy” for an edited book State of Nepal (Himal Books, 2001).

“The feedback for the ‘Arthabeed’ column, too, called for a latent demand for a book on Nepali business and economy to help people understand the history, evolution, and the future of Nepali economy,” Sujeev explains.

The 280-page book makes arguments for the past, and takes a peek into the future, with the prospect of Nepal becoming an ‘Asian Tiger’ by virtue of its rich cultural heritage, unparalleled hydropower potential, massive and able migrant workers, and the immense possibilities yet to be exploited by being located, yammed, between economic giants India and China.

The book, second for Sujeev – the first one being a collection of his Arthabeed articles in a book form – sets the record straight but is not pessimistic. It examines the history, issues and pitfalls, but also points out, proactively, the opportunities and growth possibilities for Nepal.

Noted business guru, columnist and author Gurcharan Das (India Unbound) has penned the forward for his book. Professor Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister of Afghanistan and co-author of the book Fixing Failed States, has written the introduction to the book.

The Week has had an exclusive peek into Unleashing Nepal that will be made available in Nepali bookstores from October 12. Sujeev has also scheduled a book tour to different organizations and management schools throughout the months of October and November.

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