18-24 September 2015 #776

“An observer, not a participant”

Outgoing US ambassador to Nepal Peter W Bodde spoke to Nepali Times before leaving this week.


Nepali Times: As you come to the end of your third posting in Nepal, what are your thoughts about the changes that the country has seen in the past two decades?

Peter W Bodde: One can get overwhelmed by the amount of change that has happened in Nepal. But as you know, I tend to be optimistic and focus on the positive changes that have happened. The fact is, Nepal has gone through a terrible insurgency, and you came out with a peace process that worked. You integrated hundreds of former combatants into the Nepal Army and although the first round of constitution drafting didn’t work as planned, the current one is nearing completion. And you also had an election 18 months ago that was a model for countries in terms of being free, fair and inclusive with almost 80% voter turnout and over 2.6 million new voters out of 13 million total voters. There is a lot of work left to be done, but I am encouraged by the power trade agreement with India and the renewed interest in hydro development here in Nepal. Bottom line: All the ingredients are here for economic development and continued democratic maturation. I believe Nepalis have to ensure that this tremendous opportunity is not squandered.

So, would you agree that the political transformation has been so dramatic that we have been a bit impatient that things would quickly fall into place?

To some extent, yes, I would. As I mentioned already, don’t forget all the progress that has been made. I’ve spent my career working in nascent democracies, and Nepal should be proud of where it is--realising there is much left to be done.

Were there times when you were frustrated with the pace of decision-making?

Any old friend of Nepal who has lived here for as long as I have sometimes gets frustrated with the pace of progress in economic and political development. It often feels as though progress just shouldn’t be this hard to achieve. But as you’ve heard me say often, these are Nepali tasks for Nepalis to do, and will be done in Nepali time. My role, as an old friend of Nepal representing a major donor, is to provide support and some of the tools.

International diplomats and leaders are often accused of meddling in Nepal’s affairs. What do you have to say about that?

I have been an observer in the Nepali political scene for three decades. The first reflex when things are not going well in Nepal is to look for blame outside. I have even been the victim of that sometimes. Instead of looking to blame someone outside, anywhere, now should be the time to look inside and see what can be done to make things better. It took America 13 years to write its constitution. What we learnt during our process was we all have to give up a little to get a lot and if we don’t we’ll never be successful. The same applies to Nepal today. It’s also time for people to stop thinking about their personal political agendas and put the needs of the nation first.

What would you say have been the most memorable events of the past four years as Ambassador?

Certainly the elections and everything that led up to them. I know I keep raising the elections, but in a nascent democracy like Nepal, such a successful election and such a peaceful transfer of power after the election are no small feats. I think similar progress has been made with the power trade agreement. And if you look at Nepal’s progress on the development goals, it has been equally striking.

Your Embassy had taken the lead in getting Nepal prepared for a big earthquake. How much of that work paid off during the April Earthquake, do you think?

It all paid off. We have been working with the government of Nepal and the Nepal Army for years to ensure we would be prepared if and when an earthquake happened. As a result, we were immediately able to put our plans in place and provide timely and appropriate assistance to our Nepali friends.

I am especially proud of what the entire international community did in coming to Nepal’s aid in its time of need. One of the most important aspects of all of our preparation in years past is that it enabled us to play a leading role in the overall earthquake response.

And your assessment of the post-earthquake relief and response so far?

I believe the immediate rescue and relief efforts were extremely successful. Reconstruction is much harder and takes time. That said, like everyone in Nepal, I believe more progress could be made more quickly. But what struck me the most was how the youth reacted, not just to personal or human needs. They weren’t only taking care of the injured but they were taking care of the country’s soul, guarding temples and cultural relics that lay in rubble. I think this energy, this new spark in Nepali youth is going to turn into a new positive political force.

But, most youth today prefer to study abroad and settle there. How can we lure them back home?

I disagree. I don’t think Nepalis want to stay outside their country. In fact, I believe all Nepalis want to come home. They may live overseas for sometime but eventually they return. People will come home if they are given opportunities. Besides hundreds of thousands of students studying abroad, there are also millions of Nepalis who work outside, who have been exposed to the world and who on their return will have a higher expectation of what life should be like. If their expectations are fulfilled by the state, there’s no reason why Nepalis won’t stay here.

You have often spoken publicly about Nepal’s untapped potential in investment, hydropower, trade and tourism. What would you say are the main reasons why those potentials have not been fulfilled?

In order for foreign investment to come to any country, that country has to set the conditions to make any investments attractive and profitable. People won’t invest where it is hard to do business or where they don’t believe they can make appropriate profits. It also requires creating a level of trust on all sides of the equation. This did not happen in the past, but I believe is happening now.

Finally, on your next visit to Nepal in a few years what would you like to see here?

I would like to see Nepal reap the benefits of the hard work it has put into creating a democratic society. I would like also to see Nepal develop economically at a much faster rate that would allow for its people to prosper and enjoy the benefits of this nation’s untapped wealth.

Read also

Preserving Nepal's soul, Stéphane Huët

Aircraft for relief

15 year timeline, Om Astha Rai and Ayesha Shakya