Poor Haiti – so close to the US but so far from God is a common expression used to describe the misfortune of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere right next to the richest country in the world. A parallel expression could be Poor Nepal – surrounded by China and India (the fastest growing major economies of the world), but doomed by its own poor governance.
Nepal has all the favourable attributes to become a prosperous country. Yet it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia despite seven decades of development efforts and exceptional international solidarity. While its feudal past was responsible for its underdevelopment up to the 1980s, in recent decades self-styled revolutionaries of various stripes masquerading as progressive democrats have held the country hostage to a vicious cycle of poor governance, lack of rule of law, and primacy of politics over economics.
As we saw following the devastating earthquake of 2015, Nepal enjoys boundless international goodwill and support. But no amount of international support can help a country if its own leaders cannot rise above petty squabbles, partisan interests, and constantly rent-seeking behaviour.
As the old saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. We Nepalis must first fix our domestic political culture; end mafia-style cartels and syndicates under the patronage of political parties; institutionalize good governance and rule of law, then only we can expect to see international aid, trade and investment pouring in, and Nepal’s development picking up momentum.
I commend the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA) for convening this high level seminar on Revisiting Nepal’s Foreign Policy in Contemporary Global Power Structure. It brings together Nepal’s who is who in diplomacy and foreign affairs from political parties, government bureaucracy, academia and civil society. We can certainly revisit and try to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of our diplomacy and international relations. But I trust participants at the seminar will remember that no amount of tinkering of our foreign relations can usher prosperity in Nepal if we do not first fix our domestic political culture.