Nepali Times
Here And There
Closure is a good thing


So Washington is declaring 'victory' in Iraq. This is good. Although a battlefield triumph for the hard-body, hi-tech of the invaders was never in doubt, closure is almost always a good thing. And for the people of Iraq and the media, a declaration of victory means it's time to hold the victors to account, to make them repair the damage they wrought and begin to build this new Iraq that they speak of in almost religious tones. Get on with it boys.

Here in Nepal, we watch the opening of something new, a peace process begins. Will it ever know closure? Not that we should fill ourselves with dread at the outset. There is, this time, something different in the air, a sense that the constitutional bargaining table may be the most profitable battlefield for the nation's political forces. You're a royalist? Justify it. You want a republic? Why? What's in it for the people? Make your argument and make it stick. Then take it to the electorate and convince them too. Closure on Nepal's many, many years of arrested development awaits.

Ah yes, and then we come to development, or should I say Development-for which, it seems, there can be no closure. I cannot think of a single, largescale developmental success in the modern age. This excludes-of course-the achievement of various benchmarks set in meeting rooms and seminars by comfortable, educated people who are part of the process, the ruling foxes of the chicken farm, as it were. Notable successes in Nepal include improvements in literacy rates, maternal mortality, availability of basic health services and so on. But rather than closure, each of these benchmarks achieved serve to underline one glaring notion - international developmental practice thrives in the vacuum of local failure.

For the careerist aidocrat, there can be no success for that means that one no longer has a job. Failure must be maintained, either by the perpetuation of inefficient programs or the constant moving of the goal posts. Got there in literacy? Right, but how's the gender balance. No? You're a failure, you still need us, Nepal.

For the compassionate and competent in the aid community, honesty serves a similar purpose. In the time of any single development worker's period of assignment, no significant progress can be made on any of the pressing issues that they are here to address. And they know it. From water to legal reform, from children's long term security to economic equity, these are matters that take generations to put right, centuries even. And Nepal has barely begun, thanks to many years of cynical oligarchy, misguided authoritarianism and lately, constant foreign patronage, part self-serving, largely inept.

Has the development community managed success on a national level in any other country in the world? Let's remember that most poor nations have been receiving aid and guidance from wealthy mentors for decades. In fact, a surf through UNDP and other web sites seem to show many places getting worse, not better. Largely, I suspect, because the aid bureaucrats are cooking the books to keep closure at bay. Who wants to declare themselves out of a job after all? Especially, a lavish, benefit-saturated, largely tax-free job in a wonderful foreign setting with cheap domestic labour and oodles of local gratitude for the wonderful, compassionate job you do.

This is also why the theory of development grows ever more esoteric and impenetrable to the lay person, and especially to the ostensible beneficiaries. Now no one can tell me that the rural folk of Nepal, or the urban poor for that matter, don't know what's wrong in their lives. And they have some damn good ideas on how to set things right, usually involving education, clean water and transparent politics. But the implementation of such simple, common sense ideas might have one dreadful consequence. I can sense the shudders from bilateral and multilateral meeting rooms as I write this.

Closure. We can't have that.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)