First there was aid. Foreign aid. It was a simple enough concept. Some countries had a lot. Many had little. So it didn't take a genius to see that a little sharing might be a good thing. After the Second World War in Europe, the United States practically rebuilt the place with aid. Such generosity is a shining example of human nature at its best.
Then came "development". I put the word in inverted commas for a reason. No one really knows what it means, or at least, everyone has their own definition. But what is plain is that with "development", an impulse to help others has become something different entirely. Implicit in the whole notion of development is the notion of superiority. We-the givers-are more developed than you-the receivers. In short, we are superior. However much one evokes history, geography, geology or misfortune, the relationship in "development" is very much between unequal partners.
You see that all around you in Nepal's cosy little development world. The mismatched pay scales, the obfuscation of measurable goals through jargon and constant moving of the goal posts, occasionally even the attitudes of people from abroad towards their Nepali colleagues. This last, I trust, is rare on the ground although I'm sure a few tales exist to prove otherwise.
Development seeks to make basic changes in the intrinsic nature of society. Many of these changes are indeed desirable. Who, for example, doesn't believe that women should be equal to men in Nepal? Who wouldn't like to see dalits, janjatis and other disadvantaged groups alongside Bahun Chhetris in all walks of life? Who wouldn't like any and all conflicts resolved by peaceful means? These are laudable goals. But what's becoming ever more questionable is whether foreign development professionals are qualified to pursue them on Nepal's behalf.
First of all, the very inequalities innate in the notion of development make it less likely that those at the receiving end even believe in the mission of the foreigners. If you tell me I'm inferior, I resent it, even if I believe it. That resentment gets in the way of change. Secondly, the institutionalisation of development-especially here in Nepal-is too far gone. Agencies with mandates to bring change are all based in Kathmandu. Foreign employees participate in career paths that confine them elite economic and social activities and rarely if ever interact with groups they seek to develop. I know that
elite's need to "develop" too, if equality and peace are to prevail. But at the moment, our development specialists seem more likely to help perpetuate these problems, not resolve them.
Finally, I don't believe that foreigners-however well intentioned-can bring lasting social or economic change through any means short of conquest and that's certainly-we hope-ruled out these days. Change has to come from the grassroots, from indigenous sources. People have to want it. And if they're to keep it, they have to own it, nurture it and treasure it by themselves. No matter what those of us from Britain, Norway, Canada or America may think.