Compatibility Problem: Missing “Peace-Lens” Behind Problem of Federalization in Nepal
After ten years of violent communist insurgency, Nepal entered into a peace process in 2006 under international auspices and with domestic pressure. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) agreed to join peaceful competitive politics if a new set of rules, mutually agreed by key actors and endorsed by the people, were set. An alliance of seven political parties, which were in the parliament since 1990, agreed to set new rules, as a reciprocity to the Maoists’ demands. Thus evolved a new political course, the abolition of the monarchy, formulation of a new constitution through popularly elected assembly and restructuring of the state as a point of compromise. Some strong sectoral forces emerged in the meantime to exert pressure on the parliamentary forces and the Maoist insurgents to address Nepal’s ethnic and geographical diversity in the new state structure to ensure that every minority group is able to participate in the state affairs. The concept of federalism, in this way, was introduced in Nepal’s political discourse.
In essence, restructuring of the state through federalization was a tool adapted to Nepal’s political discourse as a compromise among the “People’s Republic” demanded by the Maoists, “consolidated parliamentary democracy” demanded by the democratic forces, “regional self-rule” demanded by the groups operating in the southern plains, and “ethnic self-rule” demanded by more marginalized communities. This compromise gave birth to “participatory democracy” in the place of the existing “representative democracy”. It was the mandate of the entire peace process that includes the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (Nov 2006) and other agreements signed by the parties in power with traditionally marginalized groups. I term it as the “software of Nepal’s peace process”.
After seven years of hectic negotiations in two consecutively elected Constituent Assemblies on the content of a new constitution, Nepal hastily promulgated the new constitution in September 2015 when the country was in a state of mental shock caused by the devasting earthquakes of April 2015. There was resentment in the southern plains that has been dominated by groups historically and culturally close to India. The post-constitution resentment was interpreted as a conflict between Kathmandu’s ruling class and Madhes’ ruling class. India tacitly supported the groups in the southern plains and imposed an un-declared economic blockade on Nepal, cutting all essential supplies through legal routes. The Madhes-based party’s call for the creation of a province stretching from east to west in the south was interpreted by Kathmandu’s powerful elites.
Because of the resentments felt in the southern plains, Nepal could not hold elections for federal, provincial and local governments for nearly two years. The conflict in the aftermath of the constitution promulgation was between Kathmandu’s ruling class that believed the political groups operating in the southern plains intended to control major supply routes via India as part of their control exercise, and the political actors in the south who believed they were being treated as second-grade citizens and denied any place in the national decision-making by confining them to a small chunk of land in south eastern plains. While crafting new politico-administrative structures, dominant Kathmandu-based political actors considered how to weaken the “capacity to control” of the groups operating in the south.
Several existing local units were merged to create new municipalities in the name of strengthening their governability and reducing administrative expenses. The number of representatives also were reduced remarkably. There were 54 elected representatives in the past in a Village Development Committee (VDC), but now the entire VDC has been converted into a ward with five representatives in most of the local government units. The creation of huge administrative units has made it impossible for small minority groups to get elected. When rooms are too large, voices are at times too small and cannot be heard easily. To ensure one’s voice is heard, one has to either shout or rise up from their seat and come to the center of the room. The act of shouting and rising from one’s seat symbolizes one’s revolt against the existing system. Nepal’s new administrative structures at the local levels have been crafted in a way that small voices are hard to lift up and be heard.
Now, given these dynamics, there are two methods for ensuring people’s participation in the government systems: 1) the creation of space, and 2) the formulation of an inclusive process. If space or the structure is not favorable for the participation of smaller groups, the process design should facilitate more inclusive participation. Electoral systems and systems for people’s participation during key decision-making can help people more effectively engage in decision-making platforms and outcomes. Nepal has claimed to have adopted an inclusive democracy to advance the goal of participation of the minority groups in decision-making platforms. However, this inclusiveness is limited to the reservation of a seat for a women’s representative and a Dalit woman at the lowest administrative unit. Local elections are held on the basis of the “winner takes all” type of electoral system, unlike at the provincial and federal levels. So, the local governance system in Nepal undermines the basic requirements of a participatory democracy. There are serious compatibility problems between the software or the notion of participatory democracy and the hardware or the space or structures of local government.
Major factors that led to the formation of structures incompatible with the mandates of the peace process agreement is a result of the absence of a conflict-lens in Nepal’s state restructuring, especially at the local levels. The main objective of introducing federalism was to address Nepal’s centuries old hierarchical socio-economic and political order that frequently gave birth to conflict, the latest being the communist insurgency from 1996 to 2006. When people are given the impression that their government is at their doorstep to hear their grievances, many root causes of conflict are addressed, with such causes being localized, spatialized and addressed locally. It stops the conflict from spreading to and escalating in other parts of the country.
Federalization has been used as a means of conflict resolution in many countries over the past decades. Nepal opted to utilize the federal system to end all sorts of discrimination and to promote inclusive democracy. The end of discrimination and the promotion of inclusive democracy are meant to address the root causes of conflicts while managing any existing conflicts. However, federalization has been interpreted through the lens of governability or the lens of good governance. If only governability and good governance were the key objectives of federalism, there would be no need for terming the local and province administrative units as “governments”. The term “government” offers psychological security and helps localize and spatialize the conflict and apply a local remedy. So, I have been looking at our federalization process through peace lens.
While in the rural areas of Nepal, interacting with traditionally marginalized groups, I often used to grapple with a question: “what did the political change in Kathmandu deliver to people in far-flung villages?” My question was natural. They are neither counted as stakeholders within the entire political change process, nor are they entitled to any peace dividend.
While engaged at Chulalongkorn University as a Rotary Peace Fellow with Class 30, I was almost naïve in theoretical aspects of peace despite nearly two decades of direct or indirect work in conflict management. I could hardly relate my experience with the conflict world view and did not have an idea of how peace processes globally have tried to address the concerns of individual citizens. The theory and tools of conflict and development analysis, community-level peacebuilding, inclusive peacebuilding, identity, religion and ethnicity in peacebuilding, means to address violent extremism and media’s role in peacebuilding were only some of the issues that we have explored. The Peace Program has exposed me to more global experiences, and has provided me with an extra lens with which to analyze Nepal’s peace process as successful on the political front and how it has yet to deliver a dividend to rural citizens.
Importantly, the theory
linking practice instructors and resource persons who are strategically engaged
to facilitate the program have shared examples from dynamic contexts globally,
from the Philippines, Northern Ireland to Colombia. In complement, the Class 30
Peace Fellows from different backgrounds have provided me with a wide range of
lenses from which to analyze conflict, peace and development. Exploring non-violent
peace movements, the power of storytelling and transforming stress through
selfcare has equipped me with some additional skills as a peacebuilder. Now I believe I can use these various lenses together
to look at a conflict and apply my skills for peacebuilding accordingly in
better way in Nepal.
 Upreti, B.R., Töpperwien, N. and Heiniger, M. (2009), Peace process and federalism in Nepal: Experiences, reflections and learning. Kathmandu: NCCR North-South.
Yuvraj Acharya – Nepal
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Non-Violent Actions & Peace: Need of the Hour Inclusion in School Curriculum is Essential
As a media academic and researcher, I have travelled to few countries on various continents of the world, including Thailand, Turkey, Portugal, USA, Greece, Finland, Canada, Italy, Ethiopia, Scotland (UK), and France. During my visits, other academic’s, researchers, students and others asked me one unique question: “Are you from Gandhi’s country? Are you from India? It’s great, Gandhi’s country”. I replied: “Yes”. During those times, I had mixed feelings: Gandhi has created an entirely new movement in the world. He has developed a strong weapon that does not kill anyone. He has created a new lifestyle. His style is loved by everyone. Yes, I am from Gandhi’s country. That’s why we call Gandhi the father of our nation. Gandhi is called as “Mahatma” (Great Soul). These feelings made me feel proud.
Why is Gandhi known and remembered by people from all over the world, even today? Because, he offered us a wonderful weapon called “non-violent action” so that we may achieve greater peace. Without violent actions, he achieved many great things including independence for India and also religious cohesion. In addition, he taught this new opportunity to many other societies. After Gandhi’s life, many countries, societies, groups, communities are following (except a few) this non-violence style to achieve their peace and development goals. Mahatma is considered as one of the greatest promoters of peace and non-violent activism in the world. In-line with Gandhi, many other great leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc., also promoted non-violence movements. In India, it is called “Ahimsha” in Hindi and “Arap Porattam” in Tamil.
The Saint Vallalar of Tamil Nadu said: “vaadiya payirai kanda pothellam wadinen.” This means: “I would shed tears on seeing the crops which are withering for want of water.”
Another Sangam Poet Kaniyan Poongundranar’s “Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kaelir” is depicted in the purpose of the United Nations. This means: “All places are ours; all are our relatives.” If every human being thinks and behaves like this, there will be no violence and peace will prevail around the world.
Non-violent actions like peaceful non-cooperation, strikes, boycotts, marches, rallies, demonstrations, sit-ins, wearing black badges are popular. During challenging times, protestors may follow these unique non-violent actions even when they are being agitated and attacked by government agencies like police or military forces. Now, these actions are followed by many groups, communities throughout the world. They are also used to inspire peaceful dialogues.
Non-violent actions are inspiring protestors and government agencies to seek more productive means to solve their problems in a peaceful manner, without damaging public property, and threats to life. Such actions also help to mitigate and reduce the feelings of hate among different stakeholders. Many international agencies, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are also involved as intermediaries for peace keeping, conflicts resolution and transformation. More and more universities are offering peace related programmes and trainings for students and professionals. Research and development activities are also happening in many places.
But, still in many places around the world some governments and groups are using violent and extremist actions which degrades our modern civilization and humanism. It also damages the economy, environment – natural resources, as well as causes the loss and grave impact on human lives. We lose our humanism, we forget our good deeds, we forget peace and act uncivilized. That’s why there are bigger challenges before human beings. One very important challenge among them all is: “The greatest challenge for human beings is to behave as human beings.”
In the name of caste, community, religion, gods, we hold many biases. So, these biases contribute to violence and full-scale war. More than all of these biases, humanism is very important. If we want to develop a humanistic approach in all that we do, we must be rational thinkers and approach our lives thoughtfully. Civil society should not believe whatever they hear, they must check the truth / facts, non-humanistic scenarios and apply them to our understanding. This thoughtful and rationale thinking will contribute to non-violent actions and peace in our world.
As Rotary Peace Fellows, we can play an important role in changing the most challenge to worse things in the world. We can learn, practice and implement non-violent actions. Also, we can demand that our governments—through dialogue, advocacy, lobbying, etc.— utilize the positive non-violent tools like peace dialogues and more humanitarian approaches.
Peace studies should be included in more schools’, colleges’, and universities’ curriculum and encourage students to follow non-violent actions from a young age. Young people certainly can and are changing the world in a positive way. If we are promoting seeds of peace among our youth, they will grow bigger and become taller trees that promote peace in the future of our world.
Dr. Arulchelvan Sriram – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Reimagining education in the aftermath of the pandemic
2.3 million learners are impacted by school closures and a national lockdown in Jordan due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number includes 230,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan. Even before the pandemic, Jordan’s education system was under great pressure to provide quality education; with poor infrastructure, low basic literacy and numeracy levels, combined with older methods of instruction, violence and bullying. This has resulted in heightened levels of frustration among students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and educators even with enormous funds and support provided by the international community
Since the pandemic, there have been great efforts to move to online platforms. Many of these efforts involve engaging learners, educators, and parents in new ways using some form of technology. This includes creating partnerships with the private sector to digitalize lessons and establishing digital infrastructure in rural areas which will help over 16% of the students in Jordan who lack internet access; 16 percentage points below the OECD average.
I feel optimistic that after the pandemic ends, there will be lots to learn from and builds upon.
One thing is the appreciation and the recognition for teachers and the role of school that has been underestimated for years. Parents are more appreciative as they struggle to work with their children at home. Educators became heroes and heroines doing the best they can to deliver lessons, even with limited resources and limited skills in using advanced technology.
We can also see the serious efforts to empower parents to take an active role in their children’s learning and gain skills that are involved in teaching. On the other hand, online learning has made it possible for educators to be more comfortable in using different technologies and to improve their skills, which leads to improved learning for students. It is very important to maintain this relation with parents after the reopening of schools. It is also important to establish more partnerships with different sectors so schools become centers for ongoing learning and community engagement.
It has always been the case that many public schools focus on academic subjects and the core interest is to pass and score high in exams. Once schools reopen, we need to reconsider this focus. I think schools can be a place to develop skills needed for future work and employment, a place to connect, communicate, practice different skills, and learn how to think critically. Students should learn at their own pace subjects that can be delivered online. There is no need to be locked in class rooms for hours to learn subjects that already exist online.
Amid the chaos, it may be hard to see the bright side, but for me this transition is needed to establish more creative and sustainable education reform.
Karam Hayef – Jordan
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Closed Schools Increases Vulnerability to Gang Recruitment and other Forms of Violence
It was a steaming-hot afternoon in southern Mexico.
We left the final small market town and traveled nearly an hour on rutted dirt roads to reach this indigenous riverbank community of Carmen Grande, in Las Montañas del Norte.
This was before the pandemic, and we had come to plan a church-based cattle co-op project.
Several young boys were eager to show us around. “This is our school,” one of them announced proudly.
It was early afternoon on a weekday, and I asked about classes. “Oh, we don’t have school this week; the teacher didn’t come.”
All four boys appeared to be between ages 8 and 12. “What grades are you in?” I asked them in Spanish. They looked puzzled and spoke in Tsotsil among themselves.
One small boy said that he was in the third grade. “Me too,” added a 12-year-old. The other two shrugged their shoulders and said that they weren’t sure.
The educational system appears to be failing these children. While data indicates a 70% literacy rate for the community’s approximately 475 residents, most persons age 15 and older have received an average of only three years of formal education.
Teachers come from outside the community and rarely speak the native language of their students, and children speak limited Spanish when they enter school.
Mondays and Fridays are teacher travel days, so children only have three days of classes per week. For students to continue studies past 6th grade, they must leave their village and go to a regional boarding school.
Since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, I have been particularly concerned for the plight of the most vulnerable populations, including women, children and youth.
Students in Latin America and the Caribbean make up 60% of all children worldwide who missed an entire year of school due to COVID-19, according to a March 2021 UNICEF report.
As 2020 drew to a close, more than 97% of students across Latin America remained physically out of school, and schools throughout the region were fully closed for 158 days between March 2020 and February 2021.
Work with community-based projects in Latin America helps me to understand the factors that contribute to migration, and several key points stand out.
1. People want to live in safety and security, without fear as they go about the daily routine.
2. People want jobs so they can earn enough to support their families.
3. People need hope for a better future, which often comes through educational opportunities.
In just a few short years, these children for whom education opportunities are meager at best will reach the age when many decide to leave their community to seek work.
Some will end up in larger towns and cities nearer home, but many will go to El Norte – to the United States or the northern states of Mexico where there is work in both agriculture and factories.
Youth from rural, indigenous households with little education, no marketable skills and who live in poverty, have a bleak future in this part of Mexico and Central America.
They’re frequent targets for local gangs at home, and “going north” takes them into cartel country where they’re extremely vulnerable to either recruitment or exploitation.
Migrants often cite gang violence and the recruitment of youth as a major factor for migration.
During COVID-19, with schools closed, teens have much more free time on their hands, and this has been especially good news for gangs and cartels. The young adults are a source of revenue for the cartels – they’re smuggled, trafficked, kidnapped and victims of extortion.
For some youth, gang affiliation provides a sense of belonging and a means for earning income to help their struggling families. For others, it’s a matter of life or death.
COVID-19 has devastated many families, particularly those living on the edge of poverty. Education provided hope, and the prolonged closing of schools will have long-term consequences.
Students fall farther behind in learning, and many will not return to the classroom. Without opportunities for education or employment, many will be recruited by gangs or violent extremist organizations.
This will exacerbate the desire to migrate.
With COVID lockdowns and border closings, many migrants are faced with few options Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, the US – these countries are already dealing with an overwhelming number of desperate migrants.
For children like my young friends in Chiapas, they are relatively safe in their rural, remote village, but the cost of obtaining land to farm and the risk of crop failures leaves them with little hope for the future.
Many will “go north” to seek employment to help their families, in spite of the danger. Every village family has its story of a youth who has fallen victim to extortion, rape and victimization by the cartels or recruitment by gangs.
In an ideal world, all children and youth would receive a quality education in a stable, safe setting that would provide them with marketable skills and tools leading to employment that pays a living wage.
Post-pandemic, we should be strengthening communities by investing in sustainable development and improving educational opportunities. In this way, we decrease the risk of youth engagement in violent groups and also the need for migration.
In Virginia, where I serve as a social worker among migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, I hear their stories and share their pain. These are not people who easily choose to leave home; they have very compelling reasons to leave behind everything they know and those they love. Being a Rotary Peace Fellow (Class 30) has enhanced my understanding of the systemic, long-term effect of violence and conflict, and the need to work for community-based solutions that will eliminate the need for migration. I’m thankful for my wonderful colleagues and the perspective that each brings from her or his country, culture, and profession.
Sue Smith – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More