March 3, 2014 Sujeev Shakya

Building on Hope

In Kampala, Yomeri Museveni, President of Uganda since 1986, recently decided to endorse an anti-homosexuality bill despite opposition from many international donors that provide aid to this assistance-dominated economy. Museveni’s move comes as an attempt to please religious factions. If we compare Nepal to Uganda, or some other countries in the African region, we can see just how open our society is. Despite being seen as conservative and inward-looking, we might realise how far we have come in embracing changes from across the world. Nepal has been very open with its media, to the extent that many feel that maybe some restriction is required. Community radios and FM stations have changed rural discourse in Nepal. Additionally, growing access to communication and social media is now generating more discussion, which would have been seen as taboo even a decade ago.

Nepalis have been able to reject conservatism, be it the kind imposed during the Shah and Rana rule or the rigid doctrines of the Maoists. Despite having strong cultural taboos of dos and don’ts, Nepalis have been able to be adapt and live in different parts of the world amidst diverse cultures. Therefore, art, music, filmmaking and literature has flourished; rarely do we hear of a Nepali book being banned. Even when a section of local filmmakers used the ‘nationalism’ excuse to disallow the screening of Hollywood and Bollywood movies, their moves were short-lived. Only in countries with restrictions, can one realise the value of openness.

Clinging to power

When I saw pictures of Robert Mugabe celebrating his 90th birthday by spending millions of dollars in an impoverished country like Zimbabwe, I wondered if that is what every politician dreams of doing. Is that what every leader should dream of ? To be in power for decades? Mugabe has been going on for nearly four and a half decades, Museveni nearly three decades. Currently, there are more than ten rulers who have been in power for more than twenty-five years and nearly twenty-five for over fifteen. So given an opportunity, is this the dream that every Nepali leader sees—to be able to hang on to power forever and keep amending rules to be able to do so? Is it the lust to cling on to power that forces them to take decisions like those that Museveni has, in order to be able to amend the laws that don’t allow him to run for the Presidency again?

In Bhutan, the king has to retire upon reaching 65 years of age and one cannot fight for elections once one crosses the 65 year mark. Perhaps, this is one lesson learnt from watching South Asian democracies run by people who do not want to hand it over to the next generation. It is also time for Nepal to seriously look into what can be done to ensure that the youth get an opportunity in time, not when they are close to retirement age. We have seen many young turks awaiting their turn for an actual opportunity when they have crossed their prime. This is not only applicable to politics but across other sectors, be it business, running civil society organisations, NGOs, educational institutions or professional firms. In a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30, it is very unfair to have a small minority governing the large majority.

Gathering the young

One of the key areas for reform across all political parties is building a system that will allow them to identify young leaders and provide hope of delivery. The disappointment expressed on social media regarding the faces in the current Cabinet stems from the fact that many of them have donned the mantle many times in the past two decades. One of the ways to work around this would be to form a young caucus in every political party. This will then collaborate with the young caucus in other parties. They have many things in common, including how to get their voices heard.

Members of these caucuses, if in government, should be assigned a ministry or appointed Assistant Minister, and if in opposition, designated in shadow ministries. The senior ministers can stay busy with inaugurations, lighting lamps, cutting ribbons and making ceremonial speeches (which we see they love). The young turks can work with a similar caucus within the bureaucracy to do the actual ‘work’. This would have a twopronged benefit. One is that these young leaders can get exposure to the ministries based on their areas of interest or expertise. Second, it can actually get many things moving, as bureaucrats will actually get time to sit down and work. The only caveat being that senior ministers should get their own speechwriters and not burden bureaucrats with that task.

Young leaders from across parties have a lot in common, apart from figuring out how to make themselves heard. They understand the aspirations of the youth, the majority of the population, better. They also have less baggage, like decades-long animosity with other. Most importantly, their lives have begun in a democracy and amongst the fading memories of the king and royals. They have no emotional attachment to the years spent in jail or taking on autocracy. Their common agenda is clear, to look forward and build a Nepal based on an open society that keeps integrating into a globalising world. The competition will then shift to who can deliver faster economic and inclusive growth, improving livelihoods and unleashing Nepal’s potential. SUJ E EV SHAKYA It is time for Nepal to seriously look into what can be done to ensure that the youth get an opportunity in time, not when they are close to retirement age

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