In the two months since April, the skies above Nepal have been dark with parachute consultants.
Even as I write this, more are plopping down into Kathmandu. It seems every international donor agency with any pretension of power and influence is air dropping consultants to carve out territories for aid. Conflict resolution consultants, mediation and facilitation consultants, arms management consultants, electoral systems consultants, demobilization consultants, rehabilitation consultants, re-integration consultants.
It is easy to recognise them: they travel light and just have a change of clothes and a notebook computer in their hand luggage. The usual suspects are tall and Caucasian mostly, usually male occasionally female. They have a fixed jet-lagged gaze and question marks on their eyebrows. They are brash, supercilious and shallow. They are always in a hurry, accompanied by harried looking fixer who has phoned in advance to fix up the briefing and is always looking at his watch during it to make it to the next one.
They have numerous meetings with a whole host of key informants whose views and information they need to collect for their reports. They work at a dizzying pace, meeting with a party leader at 8.30, a minister at 10.30, a secretary at 11.15, a few civil society activists at 12.30 and another group at 2.30, a knowledgeable scholar at 5.00, a senior Nepali consultant at 6.30. Just time to jot down all the main points before meeting representatives of excluded groups the next day: women, ethnic groups, and Dalits. To save time they are invited to focus group meetings, preferably in nearby villages, and then straight to the airport to catch a jet.
The Nepal interviews fit neatly into a template from East Timor, Cambodia or Afghanistan. Just change dates, places, names. Add an intro para or two about Nepal in the background section, paraphrased from some other report, add a few sound-bytes for local colour. Presto!
The reports are all prefaced by a page or two of executive summaries, which are all that the busy donors back at HQ have time for anyway. No one has any time for anything in-depth anymore with all the hot spots around the world. They want neat recommendations. Recommendations that then become the basis, or rather justification, for implementing project that are already decided upon. Failures can always be blamed on inefficiency, corruption, dishonesty, exclusionary practices and stupid natives, never on the consultant.
It can be argued that donor agencies and their consultants are guilty of lack of transparency, poor quality reports and vague recommendations, refusal to take seriously fundamental critiques by Nepali scholars of the projects and reports, false sense of pride based solely on the fact that they are the ones who have the money to dole out.
There is certainly a famine in Nepal, a famine of intelligent, open and modest international consultants and staff in donor agencies. Are they capable or willing to engage in open, theoretical and methodological debates and dialogue with Nepali scholars? The consultants will say that they have no time and the donor agencies will argue that they are here to get a job done, not to think.
We just may need to ask for help from other consultants to figure out what to do with all the reports from these parachute consultants that will gather dust in some shelf somewhere.