Print Edition - 2019-03-03  |  Free the Words

Identity crisis

  • Having the tallest peaks in the world is not enough; fame and identity must be earned

Mar 3, 2019-

Where is Nepal? What is Nepal known for? For those who know Nepal, the obvious answer would be Mt Everest. When I first landed in the US, I had a sense of pride—the pride from my ‘pre-assumed’ notion of Nepal’s identity. Coming from a country home to Everest, I had an optimistically high image of Nepal’s impression on the global stage. However, things were not always as I had imagined. The few times I would hear about Nepal would be in the context of extreme poverty or countries that are appallingly behind in development.

As a student of international relations, we would frequently discuss different countries’ progression and their role in international affairs. I was constantly reminded that Nepal was typically of little to no relevance to the international community. It was clear that having some of the tallest mountains in the world was not enough; fame and identity must be earned via achievements that come from innovation and hard work. Nepal is clearly far behind when it comes to economic expansion and trade liberalisation. Instead of socio-economic development and growth, today, the most common things we generally associate with Nepal are—it is one of the most corrupt and least developed countries in the world, a country where political affiliation comes before the country to many people, a country that relies heavily on foreign aid, a country that prefers to wait for external assistance if something goes wrong, and a country that has a history of being reactive rather than proactive.

Nepal’s image

Respect must be earned, and there is little chance that more countries will voluntarily push for economic and diplomatic ties with us unless we change. Based on the current situation, whether we are actually losing our relevance instead of improving would be a valid question. So, why does Nepal lack relevance today? How much do we, the citizens, hold ourselves accountable? We do not struggle for identity, we just accept the mediocrity. We are capable, but we do not identify our potential. We are very insecure too. We live under constant fear of things that are insignificant. This fear makes us forget what our real aspirations should be. We also often lack a sense of responsibility. How many of us ever bother thinking about Nepal’s image on the international stage? What are we doing for the country? Answers to these questions are not easy, but doable.

The fact that our national airline has been blacklisted for years should bother every Nepali citizen. Having corrupt officials and wrongdoers walking freely with their heads held high should concern us. These are contagious issues that highlight bigger problems. We can do better. It is time we start putting the nation first; nation before our political party, before our caste, and before our religion. It is not that we are incapable of getting things done; it is that the culture of dependence is so embedded into our system that the motivation just doesn’t arise.

No wonder we have hardly grown economically and socially in the last decade, and this is where we could

learn from our neighbours. For example, the gap between Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product per capita and

that of Bangladesh and Bhutan is wider today than it was in the early 1990s. Bhutan and Bangladesh have a

Gross Domestic Product per capita that is approximately four and two times larger than Nepal’s respectively. Our Human Development Index—measured by long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living—is behind that of countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.

Nepal’s identity

Do we wish the situation was different? If yes, what are we doing to change Nepal’s identity? What would we like to see changed? And, how are we contributing to that change? Obviously, the effort must come from every level—every citizen, public figure, civil servant and politician. The commitment to the country could come in many forms. We don’t need to start a campaign or revolt to contribute. Big ambitions exist in vain without a strong foundation for development. Therefore, the focus must be on creating a robust foundation, and Nepali youths have a special role to play in strengthening this foundation. It is time we educated ourselves and thought about the issues. Think about electing a competent person, not a party. Think about advocating for merit-based recognition and being accountable for our actions. Think about being an ethical bureaucrat. Think about our moral obligations against corruption and nepotism. Think about what we need versus what we desire.

Every small step adds to development. Our national pride today is exclusively limited to things that are not the result of our creativity or hard work. The number of young people leaving Nepal in pursuit of a better future remains alarming. How long are we going to cling to our past glory while accepting a mediocre present and an uncertain future? Several countries have natural wonders and historically significant sites; nevertheless, they have also made a huge leap towards development. Clinging to the pseudo-pride of Mt Everest while forgetting our priorities will continue to keep us stagnant. We do not need to compete with our neighbours. We might never play the equivalent political and economic roles of India and China; however, we must learn from them and fulfil our potential. Just because certain things aren’t great does not mean they have to stay that way. It is time to gain pride via hard work and innovation, via development and creativity.  It is time to gain some weight!

Dahal works at the Institute of International Finance.

Published: 03-03-2019 10:56

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