Check their DNA !
If an elephant, a tiger, a fish and a monkey were all told to climb a tall pipal tree which of them can? Only the monkey would, right? The question we now face in choosing leaders for Nepal is similar: what kind of leadership will deliver a prosperous Nepal within our lifetime?
Every political force is born with a specific mission and molded with specific values and systems to deliver that within a certain timeframe. It’s actions would be based on its unique culture and systems it has built and practiced to fulfill its primary mission. Lets call this them its ‘DNA’.
In Nepal, political forces like the Nepali Congress, UML, Maoists and their multitudes of splinter groups were formed to get rid of one or all of following: the autocratic Rana family Regime of the 19th century, the single party panchayat system of the 20th century and the absolute monarchy of the 21st. They were built specifically to rid Nepal of autocracy and introduce democracy and were successful. But in the 21st century, after having achieved all this we are in a crossroad. The road behind leads back to authoritarianism and dictatorship, the road on either side, leads to preserving the current status quo with no focus or vision towards preserving democracy. So the only ‘common sense’ road is march forward and find the best way to preserve democracy which happens by ensuring prosperity for all its citizens. And this road towards achieving equitable prosperity needs leadership with a radically new DNA.
This new “prosperity DNA” needed to preserve democracy is evolved and distinct from the ‘“freedom DNA” that brought democracy. Nepal today faces an existential crisis. Unless a prosperous democracy is “delivered” within our lifetime, the last century of painful struggles and sacrifices to ensure freedom for Nepalis will fizzle out and our very existence will be in question. Why do I say this?
Consider this: Nepal lies between two of the soon to be the biggest economies of the world. (By 2030, China will be second richest in the world with India projected to be the third richest. In a dozen years or so, we could almost imagine Nepal lying between countries like US and Canada of today. Add to the fact that our country is full of “youths”; 3 out of 4 Nepalis are under the age of 40, able bodied men and women who will be able work hard to create prosperity. To top it off, let’s not forget that more than 3 million Nepali youths are working out of Nepal in regions like the middle east to East Asia to Europe, North America and Australia, having acquired crucial skills needed to construct first world nations. Adding Nepal’s unique diverse cultures into the equation, we are truly in an enviable position to create a melting pot of ‘prosperity, tolerance and beauty’ and an example for the world to emulate!
So the question then becomes how are we preparing for it? What kind of DNA should leadership have to get Nepal out of our existential crisis and harness the immense opportunities we have? In the past we definitely needed leaders with the right DNA to fight feudalism and dictatorship in an isolated world of 19th and 20th century but that day is long gone. That same breed of leadership trying to lead Nepal would be like dinosaurs unable to cope with the radical changes brought forth by the 21st century globalized “flat” world. Today Nepal is deeply interdependent with the rest of the world. In the past decade alone, millions of Nepalis have moved in and out of Nepal, becoming global citizens and acquiring globally relevant skills. As our priorities have changed by our global exposure so should the kind of leaders we have. For far too long, we Nepalis have given 19th and 20th century prepared leaders the keys to prepare Nepal for the 21st century. And they have failed us miserably and repeatedly in the past three decades.
That is why when looking for better leaders for Nepal, we have to be extra careful in selecting the 21st century relevant leadership DNA that can ensure prosperity for all Nepalis within our lifetime. So what is this DNA that leaders for Nepal have to be built with?
Leaders for Nepal in the 21st century must be adept at transforming:
- Poverty to Prosperity
- Nepotism (Aafno-cracy) to Meritocracy
- Extractive to Inclusive institutions.
- Fatalism to youthful dynamism
1. Transforming poverty to prosperity
21st century prepared leaders for Nepal should know how to foster an entrepreneurial, innovation appreciating society in Nepal. They should excel at utilizing our unique geopolitical neighborhood to create the right environment for building equitable prosperity. Today, an average Nepali citizen wants to be self-sustain and create a prosperous future for their family. She doesn’t want to be compelled to work out on some distant land for years at huge social costs to her and her family. The political forces seeking to lead Nepal in the 21st century can no longer be driven by the ideologies of the past but by contemporary issues and a common pursuit of a dignified, prosperous, peaceful life. Far too many leaders bang their brains on focusing their energies on why Nepal remains poor while not investing enough to work on how Nepal will prosper.
2. Transforming nepotism (aafno-cracy) to meritocracy.
As Dor Bahadur Bista rightly pointed out in his book, ‘Fatalism and Development: Nepal’s Struggle for Modernization’, our fatalism, our “chakadi tantra” permeates much of our elder generation’s thinkings. But the young generation (over 82 % of Nepalis are under 45) are itching to get out of this vicious cycle of nepotism. Literacy rate has jumped from single digits to two-third of the population within the last half century. Almost every Nepali is now connected to the world (mobile penetration is nearly 100%). Soon remote villages will be doing business with clients continents away. We just need leadership that is prepared to take Nepal to this eventuality.
The 21st century world runs best on a culture that embraces the spirit of meritocracy while embracing the power of diversity. So it is imperative we get rid of the current fatalistic systems that excel at nepotism which is toxic for our unity, integrity and equality. For this, we need to build a critical mass of “bibeksheel citizens’ that does away with the culture of ‘nepotism’ in favor of a meritocratic Nepal that celebrates diversity.
3. Transforming extractive institutions into inclusive.
Nepal needs a servant government now, not the “master” government it has been forced upon till now. Nepal has been ruled so far, by extractive political and economic institutions that serve only to extract incomes, wealth and power from its citizens to help a select elite. When it comes to why we need inclusive institutions in Nepal, i find it best to just quote the book, “Why Nations fails.”
“Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few and that fail to protect property rights or provide incentives for economic activity. Inclusive economic institutions are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions, that is, those that distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.”
Leadership with the right DNA will work with citizens to build inclusive economic and political institutions that will ensure equitable prosperity.
4. Transforming fatalism to youthful dynamism.
Selecting incompetent to govern repeatedly and expect them to deliver is insanity but that has been the tradition in Nepal because of our fatalistic culture-belief that we are all destined to stay in misery until and unless someone else mighty will deliver us out of our ‘situation’? Our fatalistic dependence on under performing leaders rulers have left a poorly managed, bewildered and demoralized nation. While many in the past generation have resigned to this fatalistic mindset, the newer generation (82% of Nepalis are under 45) are taking a radically new approach of sweating it out to carve their own destiny. Even today, many of the prosperous nations of the world seek our youths, our location, our talents and work ethics. That is why, the best and the brightest youths have spread out to build first world nations.
Only by selecting leadership with the right DNA to harness our country’s youthful dynamism can lead Nepal towards equitable prosperity.
An example of leadership with a radically different set of DNA than the earlier ones is BibekSheel Nepali which was conceived in the 21st century with specific DNAs mentioned above to ‘deliver’ a prosperous republic. It’s system, values and culture are designed to build ethical, servant leadership for Nepal, moving beyond ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries to focus on 21st century values. So what is in it’s DNA? First, it focuses on molding and uniting a critical mass of judicious (bibeksheel) citizens with strong ethical human values like integrity, excellence, courage, humility, empathy and transparency. Second, it strives to turn our society into an entrepreneurial, innovation-centric, self-reliant society to build a sovereign nation that can deal effectively with its giant neighbors. Third, it focuses on building a servant government that consistently delivers a safe environment for Nepalis to excel in Nepal. And finally, these three persistent interventions on a citizen, social and government level enables a “friendly state” in Nepal which consistently and persistently delivers equitable prosperity for all Nepalis within the next few decades.
In the 21st century, leadership is preparedness. Let there be no doubt Nepal will soon be in one of the centers of the world. How we prepare now is how we will end!! Let us prepare Nepal for its glorious future by building the 21st century relevant leadership it deserves. In the next six to eighteen months, you will get a “make or break” opportunity to select your next mayor or lawmaker! So who will you bet on?
A shorter version of this appeared in Republica National daily newspaper here