Seizing the moment

  • Saarc Summit provides us with a unique opportunity to showcase to the world all we have achieved despite the odds
- Kapil Tamot
Seizing the moment

Nov 20, 2014-

International views and blessings are crucial for Nepal. The most recent case in point being the Nepali Congress-CPN-UML briefing the international community in the presence of the prime minister earlier this month about their proposal for the country’s federal structure and other issues relating to the new constitution. Two weeks later, the opposition followed suit, with the UCPN (Maoist) announcing that they too would make their position clear to the international community on behalf of their 22-party alliance.

Often, decisions made in New Delhi, Beijing, Washington DC, London, Brussels, and elsewhere are influenced by reports and analysis sent by their diplomatic and development missions out of Kathmandu. There are rarely reports on Nepal in the international media.

Small and poor countries like ours are seldom in the international spotlight. Luckily, having the greatest concentration of the world’s highest peaks, world heritage sites, and other unique tourist attractions means that we score brownie points from time to time. Events post-1990 that made world headlines were not always positive—the royal massacre in June 2001; the second Janaandolan in 2006; the first election to a Constituent Assembly in 2008; and most recently, blizzards and avalanches that took the lives of over three dozen trekkers, both Nepali and foreign.

What they will seek

Next week, Nepal will surely make international headlines, thanks to the upcoming 18th Saarc Summit. Reportedly, over a hundred journalists from several countries have already requested press accreditation to cover the event. The Summit, which Nepal is hosting for the third time in three decades, would be of particular interest to the global media. The presence of Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani and Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa and their position in the region could be a key highlight.

Along with other outcomes of the event, journalists would be exceptionally curious to observe and report on the chemistry between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The world is interested in learning how Indo-Pak relations could evolve. Their relations will dictate stability in South Asia, influence security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have an impact on the global economy in the long run. This will be the first time when both prime ministers will be sitting at the same table to talk about strengthening regional cooperation for economic growth and other matters with their South Asian counterparts for two consecutive days. Narendra and Nawaz in Nepal—this is what the media will be narrowing their spotlight on.

What we can sell

The presence of such a massive number of media persons, without having to invite them, is an opportunity that Nepal can use to tell the world that the country today is more than smiling faces and friendly people, Sagarmatha and Annapurna, yaks and yetis, Bouddha and Kumari, Freak Street and hashish. Some would argue that the media is not coming here for that. Primarily not, but reporters are always looking for stories to tell. For many, it could be their first visit to Nepal. Filing stories other than on Saarc would be of interest to many. Nepal must use this occasion to convey a positive image of the country, beyond mere stereotypes.

Thanks to much repeated examples of the Power Trade Agreement with India and the Project Development Agreements on a few hydro projects, the outlook for economic growth is positive. Both the Nepali prime minister and finance minster have been citing these examples again and again to highlight the country’s achievement in attracting foreign direct investment and to propagate optimism. These are surely accomplishments, but aren’t yet enough to lure foreign investors. Investors will look at political stability and would rely more on the Doing Business report of the World Bank than the words of ministers in a

quasi-unstable political atmosphere.

A lot will be decided after January 22, 2015 but in the meantime, we can try to share some progress we have made, mainly socio-political, despite the 10-year long violent Maoist insurgency. Indeed, we have a lot of catching up to do in order to position ourselves as an investment-friendly country, to get our public spending right, and ultimately, to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. But positive stories—achievements made through sheer efforts of individuals and through working together with international partners—can be attractive enough to occupy space in the media.

From state-owned two daily newspapers, one radio and one television station up until 1992, Nepal today has over 300 FM stations, a dozen television channels, 50 dailies, 100 weeklies/monthlies, and an ever-increasing mobile network. This huge leap has empowered people with information. Voter turnout of over 78 percent in last year’s second CA elections, where almost half were women, is a key accomplishment of this exponential growth in the media. Similarly, improvements in the health sector, particularly in reducing maternal mortality, are significant.

Nepal today ranks 102nd in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, a climb of 15 places in a year. The new Public-Private Partnership (PPP) policy will compensate the private sector in the infrastructure sector in case of losses. Tax collection today amounts to Rs 450 billion (from Rs 12 billion 20 years ago), reducing Nepal’s reliance on foreign aid to 18 percent (from 36 percent about 22 years ago).

Finally, poverty has halved from almost 50 percent to less than 20 percent in a quarter of a century. According to a study based on the multidimensional poverty index developed at the University of Oxford and used by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in its Human Development Reports, this rate is faster compared to India.

All this may sound like blowing our own trumpet, but it is not. It is building on what we have been able to build despite the odds. It is encouraging more entrepreneurship. It is believing in ourselves and trying to make others believe in us.

Cashing in

From what we have read in the media, the excitement for Saarc seems to mainly focus on Modi and his activities. The media seems uninterested in what the Summit aims to achieve. Interviews of most experts seem to come to one common conclusion—Saarc hasn’t achieved much so far. The Rs 2 billion that Nepal is spending for this Summit might not attain much, but we should at least try to highlight what the country has been upto.

Information and Communications Minister Minendra Rijal should interact with guest reporters and inspire ideas. He is well suited to do the job, both as the government spokesperson and a politician who is well able to deliver messages to the media in English. Meanwhile, a word of caution—let’s not exaggerate the way some of our governments did to highlight their hundred days achievements. In this day and age, we can no longer fool people with mere words.

 

- Tamot is Managing Director of White Lotus Centre, a private sector development and public communications advisory firm

Published: 21-11-2014 09:59

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