Nepali Times
Here And There
The real foreign hand


Much is made here about 'foreign interference' by various embassies around town. The US ambassador, envoys from Britain and India meet top Nepali officials and call for peace, order and good government.

This gets various peoples' dander up as it appears that outsiders are calling the shots here in an unaccountable and unsustainable way.

I, for one, believe that there is much unwarranted foreign influence in Nepal, but I'm not convinced that it comes from the men and women of the embassies who, after all, are here to project their country's foreign policies.

And in each case I would argue that the country in question, yes, even India, wants largely for Nepal to be at peace and working hard towards development and prosperity. One or two of the Corps Diplomatique may have disagreements over military policy, or the role of various political movements in restoring stability, but I refuse to believe that such people can force their point of view on the sovereign institutions of Nepal. Even in the current state of confusion in the country.

No the push and shove from outside that does the most damage and has over the long and medium term of modern Nepali history, comes from the aid brigade, especially the cutting edge, market-fundamentalist shock troops of the International Financial Institutions, the IFIs, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the regional banks, in our case, the Asian Development Bank. These organisations, in turn, exercise huge influence over the ability of a developing country to get aid from bilateral agencies or loans from the open market. This influence, I argue, is largely malevolent in outcome, if not intention. This is foreign interference on a grand and grossly unfair scale.

Beyond of all of this is the simple fact that aid (as broadly defined to include the IFIs) enjoys influence far beyond its actual, monetary contribution. Consider some pretty basic economic truths about the world at large and apply them to Nepal. Because, make no mistake, they do apply to Nepal. Reverse or revise any one of these and you will do more good to this land than a year of aid spending by every one of Nepal's self-satisfied donors.

First of all, there's brain drain. Stop northern countries from taking southern professionals at the ever-increasing rate in which they do. Encourage those people with various incentives to stay home and contribute to the society that nurtured them. You could do worse than to end dumping of surpluses and subsidised products by rich countries. If developing countries could 'develop' their own markets and create jobs producing goods that they themselves needed, few, Nepal included, would need much of the aid they now receive.

Capital flight from southern countries is worth hundreds of billions dollars a year, or far more when you factor in stolen money. That's much more than actual development aid. Developed country trade barriers cost the poor nations of the world an astonishing $700 billion a year, not to mention countless lost or never-to-be created jobs and business opportunities. That's 14 times official aid flow.

Debt and unfavorable trade terms, like low commodity prices, add ever more insult to the injury already done by the above. Poor country debt is far in excess of available credit, and it grows apace. Every time a lender wants to forgive debt, or relax the credit arrangements, an IFI economist, perhaps with links with the US Treasury Department (interestingly not the State Department, a far more savvy and less fundamentalist institution) vetoes things. As for commodity prices, forget it. From coffee and chocolate to base minerals, all are at all time lows and of little use to hungry foreign lands dominated by poor farmers who can neither sell nor eat their export crops.

To anyone who can tell me, once and for all, why foreign and largely malign influence of this sort in Nepal attracts so little attention, gets a Nepali Times t-shirt with my compliments.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)