Nepali Times
Here And There
A world of failures


Much is made in Nepal of failure. The failure of democracy, the failure of politicians, the king, the system, the foreign aid community, whatever.everything seems to be failing. The economy is flat at best, probably faltering or all too fragile, depending on your point of view. Development is stalled and has been for years. Politics is either moribund or downright destructive. All the institutions of state, up to and including the palace, aren't delivering the goods to the people. A return to war is looming. And the people.they're voting with their feet, leaving in droves and doing the one positive thing that seems to be happening in Nepal these days. Sending money home.

If it's any consolation to Nepalis, and I doubt that it is, the reek of failure is in the air everywhere else too. Look at Tony Blair and Britain. Cool Britannia is no more. The Sceptred Isle is abuzz over the suicide of a senior advisor to the Ministry of Defence, a man who was at the centre of a allegations that lies lay behind the pretext for the invasion of Iraq. George Bush's Washington is also contemplating a similar imbroglio. The president may have lied about Iraq having nuclear or chemical weapons. Or he may not have known the truth. Either way, Messrs Bush and Blair grow steadily more unpopular by the day. Fewer and fewer of their constituents believe what they say, or trust them to run the show in the best interests of the populace. When this happens in democracies, things get out of control. The social order comes under strain and the public mood is dark and ugly

Formerly haughty global institutions are facing up to their failures too. France, Germany and other opponents of the invasion of Iraq may have been latched onto the United Nations as the excuse to oppose Washington's war, but few of those countries put much store by the UN. Like the United States, they ignore it when it suits them. Frankly, the United Nations system is rife with failure. Some humanitarian successes in the 1990s-UNHCR in former Yugoslavia for example-were hugely overshadowed by the genocidal tragedy in Rwanda and later, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Other UN agencies have failed to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, perhaps because this is an impossible task. But the fact remains that the viral vector of the world's worst health crisis continues to rage. One estimate is that most African countries will see Botswana-style infection rates within 15 years and Asian countries will follow. That's 40 percent of the adult population to anyone who wants to defend the UN on this. Never mind the effect on economies, armies (the South African Defence force alone has a 90 percent infection rate in some regiments), cities, children and the health system. AIDS is us.

Let's not just lash the UN system. Have a look at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These lofty organisations have been shown in recent years to be among the more destructive forces in the global system, up there with corruption and natural catastrophe. Ask newly impoverished Bolivia what it thinks of the IMF's market fundamentalist nonsense. And that's just one failure among many. The World Bank tries ostensibly to curb the excesses of the free market farce, but ideology and the so-called Washington consensus hamstring it too. This failed and discredited doctrine tries to make the aforementioned fundamentalist market ideology into the New Communism-let the multinationals run things and we'll be fine.

If that's so, why has the United States itself been the greatest regulator of its own business sector? Busting trusts, smashing cartels, fining polluters, acting in the interests of workers-perhaps only when forced by circumstance and voter anger, but undeniably and admirably on occasion. Why then do successive State Departments and White Houses demand that developing countries have freer markets than are allowed in the United States? Failure, that's why.

Finally now, the media, which my detractors say-rightly, in some cases-I seldom hold to account. The BBC's own role in the Iraq arms inspector suicide in Britain is currently coming under welcome scrutiny, so I reserve judgement on that. But the media as a whole is certainly failing the audience that needs it. There is choice all right. But most of the choices are dreck, or from the same political points of view. We rarely comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable anymore. We are the comfortable.

So there you have it. A world of failures. Not a great time in history. But the best thing about failure is the chance to re-invent ourselves, to learn from mistakes and to move forward. So opportunity is knocking loudly for Nepal, and for the rest of planet. Somebody please answer the door.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)