PORTUGAL, U.S. AND MEXICO: LESSONS FROM DRUG DECRIMINALIZATION (PART TWO)

by Mekalyn Rose
Editor in Chief

This is the second article of a two part series discussing drug decriminalization and its implications for Portugal, the United States and Mexico. Part One can be found here: https://prospectjournal.org/2018/06/15/portugal-u-s-and-mexico-lessons-from-drug-decriminalization/

Portugal’s [decriminalization] methods are drastically different from the increasingly strengthened War on Drugs in the United States, where over half a million people die from prescribed, legal and illicit drugs combined every year. The question is, if Portugal has been so successful in combating their own drug epidemic with these methods, why has the United States been so slow––even resistant––to follow suit?

It’s a simple question with a complex answer. Understanding current U.S. motivations behind domestic drug policy warrants taking a look at why it all started.

On the surface, draconian style laws in the United States in regards to the War on Drugs seem to boast a noble mission of promoting widespread health and eliminating crime. However, the historical underbelly of drug policy reveals highly political and racial motivations for the enactment of laws. Today, the United States faces a raging opioid epidemic with an unsustainable influx of incarceration, which points to one key point: something isn’t working. In order to move forward in molding policies that do work, it’s important to recognize how we got here and what went wrong.

The Road to Radicalization: Origins of Drug Policies

The first push against drugs in the United States came in 1875. Shortly after the arrival of male Chinese workers during the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco passed a law against smoking opium. In 1909, the Anti-Opium Act made it a federal offense. These laws did not apply to the alternative method of injecting opiates, more commonly practiced by Whites; rather, they targeted a particularly Chinese practice. This was fueled by both the perceived threat to white male workers” during a work shortage, as well as stories published as part of a fear campaign emphasizing the “Yellow Peril” led by William Randolph Hearst which “[claimed] white women were being seduced by Chinese men in the opium dens.”

Laws pertaining to cocaine use took a similar route of reasoning. In the late 1800s, cocaine was introduced to Black communities as dockworkers first used it to withstand up to seventy hour stretches of work before this method of coping was also adopted on the plantations. Many of the crimes committed by Black people in the South were subsequently blamed on cocaine addiction. In 1914, The New York Times published an article titled “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace.” This article included the idea that heavier artillery was needed to take down a “cocaine-crazed negro,” further inciting racialized fear.

Twenty years later, new drug policies were directed towards Mexicans. Similarly to perceptions of cocaine effects, marijuana was claimed to give Mexicans “enormous strength” and that it would “take several men to handle one man,” statements left unsupported by any noteworthy evidence. Nevertheless, The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 prohibited its use or sale as a method of controlling the surge of immigrants following the Mexican Revolution, who were accustomed to using it as a medicinal plant.

Fast forward to the 1970s and marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, but for an entirely different reason. In 1994, John Ehrlichman––the former domestic policy advisor under President Nixon––admitted in an interview that the War on Drugs, which was speed-rolled during Nixon’s presidency in the ‘70s, was politically motivated against Nixon’s antiwar and Black opponents.

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

It would seem that the debate of whether or not to reexamine our drug laws would end there, as history has reflected “how deeply embedded drugs are in our cultural frame of reference, the background ‘unconscious’ of our society where reactions are formed prior to conscious reflection.” However, both the cultural stigma against illicit drugs and political motivations continue to release a message of drug demonization and prohibition that constitutes an ideology the United States attempts to force onto its citizens and allies.

The Costs of Suppression and Regulation

Mexican President Vicente Fox has discussed the failed War on Drugs and U.S. denial of its own mistakes within a prohibitionist past, calling for a new paradigm. Ironically enough, the effort to curb illegal drug use turned out to be the very catalyst to create a breeding ground for drug trafficking. It wasn’t until after opiates, cocaine and marijuana were criminalized within the United States that the lucrative drug trade “materialized south of the U.S.-Mexico border.” Today, the United States faces a daunting realization. Almost half a century since Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs and nearly one trillion government dollars have been spent, efforts have adversely culminated into the antithesis of the “Land of the Free” with an estimated 450,000 people incarcerated for drug related offenses in 2016, compared to around 40,900 prisoners in 1980.

Notably, when it comes to marijuana, public opinion has begun to shift. Nine states and Washington D.C. have legalized both recreational and medical cannabis use and research on health benefits have produced many positive results. Despite this progress, the conversation of legalization, let alone decriminalization, usually doesn’t apply to other drugs and the legalization of cannabis––especially in California––has had an unintended consequence for the drug trade coming out of Mexico. Illegal substances create a market and cannabis is no longer profitable, at least not for the cartels. Now, heroin is the new market and U.S. pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame.

The current opioid epidemic can be traced back to a public health system saturated with the very substance that incited the original drug laws: opioids. The United States has a “pain” problem. In 2015, it was reported that around 92 million people, or 38% of the U.S. population, took a prescribed opioid painkiller. Despite a lack of pain reported in the last couple of decades, “sales of prescription opioids in the United States nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.” While painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin have proven highly effective in treating pain, their abuse potential is significant. Around 4-6% of people who misuse their prescriptions turn to heroin, which happens to be a “cheaper and more powerful” alternative.

Questioning Current Approaches to Drug Policy

So, what do these changes reveal about current approaches? Will there always be another drug exploited to profit off the masses? History will indicate yes, unless society forgoes the fear and taboo of illicit drugs long enough to discuss honestly the realities of human culture and address the issue of drugs as a whole. Drugs have always been incorporated into human society and it is unrealistic to push a goal of complete eradication, nor is it always straightforward to define the line between safe drugs and dangerous ones. Anything used beyond the scope of necessity increases risk, as the abuse of opioid prescriptions indicates.

There is also no proof that the decriminalization policies used in Portugal will provide the United States with the same positive results. Some counter arguments cite the massive size difference in population and the cyclical nature of drug epidemics that cannot be helped by policy. However, it is maintained that “much of the American approach to drug policy is based on speculation, fear-mongering, and outdated methodologies and ideologies, instead of the empirical evidence that allowed the Portuguese task force to focus on specifics of poverty.” Today, there is growing support for decriminalization, backed by both the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Finally, the question remains why the United States has appeared resistant to change. Among several possible reasons, propagandist belief systems have shaped our perspective and knowledge of drugs, private prisons profit off drug crime, pharmaceutical companies benefit from addiction and language such as “druggie” and “junkie” continue to promote the dehumanization of people seeking help. A culture of shame replaced by a society of well-being would alter the label of “criminal” to “ill,” provide greater avenues for seeking help, allow for valuable medical testing and free up law enforcement to focus on bigger issues and improve their relationship with communities. Like Portugal in the 1980s, the United States is reaching a point of desperation. The rate of change is dependent upon our willingness to question the foundation of our current viewpoints and how to implement laws or strategies founded on principles of health and public good instead of racial or political underpinnings. Perhaps then the focus will be less on the thickness of physical chains and more on the alleviation of psychological ones on the road to healing.

 

Image by Anne Worner

ERADICATING THE PRACTICE OF FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING ON YOUNG GIRLS IN SIERRA LEONE

by Ami Bhakta
Contributing Writer

Executive Summary

Female genital cutting (FGC) is a pressing issue in Sierra Leone that not only can cause an abundance of health problems in young girls, but is also correlated with dropping out of school and child marriage. It is a serious prohibitor of girls’ potential and impedes on a girl’s ability to control her own body. To combat this problem, conversations need to be started in Parliament about partnering with INGOs to develop educational services regarding the harmfulness and unnecessariness of FGC. These educational services will benefit Sierra Leone as a whole by also promoting democracy and community developing by incorporating community conversation through a nonjudgmental rights-based approach.

Statement of Issue

Progression towards gender equality includes attempting to change legal frameworks and the discrimination that stems from patriarchal attitudes and prevailing gender norms. This includes attempts to alter laws and societal mindsets towards female genital cutting, which will hereby be referred to as FGC. FGC is practice inflicted mainly upon young girls before marriage (typically the only economically viable life choice for women) in order to ensure their purity and to control their sexuality. FGC holds the risk of an abundance of mental and physical problems, including increased risk of HIV, bladder infection, blood loss, menstrual complications, childbirth complications, death, etc. (28 Too Many, 2018). The specific problem being addressed is the lack of policies regarding educational services about the implications of FGC, and thereby the lack of access community leaders, parents, and FGC executors have to these services.

Implementation of educational services teaching on the detriments of FGC are crucial to changing the social convention that revolves around the practice. Today, around 200 million girls in the world have been affected by the practice that defines the legitimacy of a woman and causes unnecessary health problems (28 Too Many, 2018). In Sierra Leone, an African state with one of the highest percentages of FGC practice, it has a prevalence of 89.6%, and the state currently has no laws in place banning FGC; while it was shortly banned in 2014 during the Ebola Crisis, the ban has since been lifted, and there appears to be no sign of discontinuation (28 Too Many, 2018). Eradicating FGC is also important because there is a strong correlation between undergoing FGC and child marriage in some ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, and many drop out of school after being cut (28 Too Many, 2018). If communities in Sierra Leone can slowly begin to condemn FGC, there might be a larger number of girls staying in school and getting married later, which is clear progress on the pathway towards UN Sustainable Development Goal #5 of gender equality. Furthermore, FGC of girls in Sierra Leone is extremely prevalent in households with uneducated mothers (95%), as compared to in households with mothers who have at least secondary education (74.2%) (Bjälkander et al., 2012). If these educational services can get the ball rolling and have girls stay in school for longer, these educated future mothers will work in conjunction with any anti-FGC initiatives or laws in place by the time.

Following the statement of the issue, this policy brief will dive into the origins of FGC and how it plays out in Sierra Leone society today. The lack of policy regarding FGC in general, nevertheless regarding anti-FGC educational programs, certainly warrants critiques. Many anti-FGC initiatives have been implemented in various sub-Saharan African countries, such as alternative rites of passage and alternative employment for FGC executors, but the best approach to take for a long-term cessation of FGC is the approach that advocates for community conversation and dialogue.

Origin of the Problem and the Current Context

Originating in Africa, FGC is currently condoned in 28 countries (Bjälkander et al., 2012). While it is not certain when the practice originated, in the past few decades it has come to be recognized as a human rights violation.  In Sierra Leone, 70.1% of women aged 15-19 have undergone FGC compared to 96.4% of women aged 45-49, implying some change through the generations, but this shift is still not as fast as it ideally should be, and many more young girls are still at risk (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Though it is important to know that FGC has no health benefits, the origins of its purpose lie within the misogynistic ideas that a girl is only marriageable and a real woman if she has undergone FGC. The International Center for Research on Women claims that cultural consensus agrees that FGC maintains family dignity and respect, is ingrained in communal and ethnic identity, and improves female hygiene (ICRW, 2018). Aside from this, FGC still has practical implications for Sierra Leonean women today; in order to be marriageable, a woman must be cut, and marriage is often times the only way a woman can financially support herself and her family. As gender roles are an integral part to the various cultures of ethnicities in Sierra Leone, women are expected to remain pure, faithful, and modest—FGC is viewed as a prerequisite for all three (International Center for Research on Women, 2018).

The largest group of FGC excisors in Sierra Leone is known as the Bondo Society, a secret society comprised of all cut women (Bjälkander et al., 2012). The Bondo Society is prevalent in all ethnic communities of Sierra Leone, with 90% of women in the country belonging to the Bondo Society (28 Too Many, 2018). For them, FGC is not viewed as a human rights violation, but rather as entry into a society of women who have elevated community status and power.  In the current context, community elders decide when FGC will take place, and then notify the families of all the girls of age; the traditional excisor of FGC, also known as a Sowei in Sierra Leone, visits the families of young girls and informs them of the process of the ritual—FGC is very much a community-based decision (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Women are especially involved in the FGC decision making process for a young girl in the family (and therefore should be key targets of any anti-FGC reform, along with community elders and parents of boys). They are the largest stakeholders in the practice of FGC, as if they are not cut, they are subject to alienation and terms equivalent to “foolish”, “stupid”, “childish”, or “impure”, and if they are cut, it provides them with a sense of community and agency (28 Too Many, 2018).  These conditions make it difficult to unweave the precedent FGC has set in the fabric of Sierra Leonean society.

Some earlier campaigns to combat FGC have actually been counterproductive, and have resulted in the medicalization of FGC, which is potent in Sierra Leone today. Anti-FGC initiatives to paint FGC as an inhumane process that leads to severe health problems have resulted in licensed doctors performing FGC in order to satiate parents’ fears of health problems (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Fighting FGC by solely portraying it as a health violation only led to the addition of another acceptable excisor. This has actually further legitimized the practice and depicts in a healthy light because it is being executed by a doctor, even though the same health risks are still present. Because FGC is so culturally accepted and significant, doctors will usually have no problem performing the act. The current context of FGC in Sierra Leone is that it is still widely practiced and encouraged today, regardless of any prior initiatives to eradicate the process.

Critique of Policy Options

It is hard to critique policy options, because currently there is no passed legislation regarding FGC in Sierra Leone today (28 Too Many, 2018). Therefore, this section will target previous attempts to eliminate FGC that have failed and must be avoided. Though Sierra Leone’s constitution addresses the concept of basic human rights, neither the constitution nor parliamentary meetings address “women’s access to resources, education, reproductive health, political representation and perceptions of women in public and private spaces, or basic human rights” (Smart, 2012). There is a great gender disparity regarding conversations about men and women, and parliamentary silence on issues that affect women essentially imply their views on practices ingrained in Sierra Leonean culture, including FGC.  Parliament’s failure to tackle the practice helps to sustain its legitimacy in Sierra Leone. In fact, there is even more incentive for Parliamentary members to avoid condemning FGC because it is viewed as a “vote-winner” because it so popular among ethnic enclaves and women in Sierra Leone (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005). The only female presidential candidate in 2002 garnered less than 1% of voters, and blames her poor turnout on her anti-FGC stance. Though Sierra Leone signed the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1988, no legislation has been passed criminalizing FGC because it is not viewed as a threatening women’s rights violation (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005).

In Sierra Leone, the Amazonian Initiative Movement has convinced some midwives and other FGC excisors to stop performing the practice by giving them another type of employment (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005). However, Sierra Leone’s relationship with FGC is unique because close to all FGC excisors are Soweis from the secret Bondo Society, whose livelihood largely depends on transforming girls to women, which FGC is a big component of. Convincing them to drop the practice will be hard, and if any progress is made, it may be ephemeral, or just make FGC go underground. FGC is so central to the mission of the Bondo that when an organization called Conscious Family launched an anti-FGC campaign, the organization’s leader had to go into hiding due to death threats from the Bondo (28 Too Many, 2018). Even for just speaking out against the practice of FGC, young girls can be forcefully cut by the Bondo because the Sowei wants to initiate girls before they are “‘taken up’ by the human rights discourse” (Bosire, 2012). Converting excisors in Sierra Leone is especially difficult, as compared to other countries like Mali or Somalia where excisors are stigmatized or from a lower class, because excisors in Sierra Leone are revered and “powerful ritual specialists” (Johansen et al., 2013). Given the place of excisors in Sierra Leonean life, converting their employment is not a reliable way to eradicate FGC. Both the Amazonian Initiative Movement and the Inter-African Committee have launched campaigns to give FGC excisors other employment or worked in conjunction with local police forces and schools to convert FGC excisors to farmers (28 Too Many, 2018). Although this approach may have some impact on how many FGC excisors are still employed in the field, this approach does not change the social convention or mindset regarding FGC, and it will still continue to be an in-demand process here for the long-term. According to UNICEF, this approach can work well with complementary approaches, but alone, this was and is not enough to put an end to FGC (28 Too Many, 2018).

Policy Recommendations

As observed, solely focusing on changing the discourse in Parliament, or attempting to provide alternative forms of employment for FGC excisors, fails to spark permanent change against the practice of FGC. The best policy recommendation at this point would be to facilitate community dialogue and to employ a human rights-based approach through mandatory educational services that local communities have easy access to. Assessing the problem of FGC will be best done not by purely passing laws or offering jobs to FGC executors, but by addressing and changing the societal and communal mindsets revolving around the practice to ensure a permanent shift in attitudes toward FGC.  Sustaining community conversation and dialogue will not only eventually lead to a consensus among locals that FGC is an unnecessary practice but is also a more fulfilling approach than just targeting a certain group in Sierra Leone in hopes of eradicating the process. Educational services that host these conversations will help local parents, leaders, youth, and medical personnel change their collective societal mindset on the harmful practice of FGC.

Great examples of community wide campaigns (that take into consideration the cultural value of FGC, unlike the two previous approaches mentioned) are Tostan International’s FGC education model in Senegal and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood’s work in Egypt. In Egypt, by incorporating children, parents, leaders, medical practitioners, journalists, and judges into social media and educational campaigns, the NCCM was able to issue a law which made FGC illegal in the country in 2008 (ICRW, 2018). In Egypt in 2016, FGC moved from being a misdemeanor to a felony. Encouraging dialogue amongst the community and within families is the best way to eradicate the social convention around FGC. For example, one specific employment of this appears in Senegal through the Grandmother Project, which used grandmothers’ revered status within the family hierarchy to foster conversation about community values and traditions (ICRW, 2018).  Besides promoting development and democracy, these courses should also remember to maintain using the rights-based approach mentioned earlier. Success of these educational initiatives can be measured based on how many communities deliver a public declaration to abandon FGC, which is a good indicator that the social convention around the practice has changed.

Conclusion

Overall, there is not one direct way to tackle FGC in all countries it is practiced in. Solutions that only cater to one part of the problem are futile; change cannot occur just from trying to persuade members of Sierra Leonean Parliament, or by finding a new job for an FGC excisor. The decision to change must be arrived at by the community. This process takes effort and time, and it takes a culturally sensitive and holistic method that encompasses all members of the community. Educational services are a good idea to implement and be made accessible in Sierra Leone. Referring to them as community development programs instead of anti-FGC initiatives will ensure that the Bondo Society and communities in general do not react harshly to the courses. It is of the utmost importance to start the conversation in Sierra Leonean Parliament about working and partnering with INGOs to set up these educational services in as many communities as possible. Stopping FGC will result in girls going to school for longer and decrease the likelihood of child marriage, a strong step in the path toward gender equality and sustainable development.

Works Cited

Bjälkander, Owolabi, Bailah Leigh, Grace Harman, Staffan Bergström, and Lars Almroth. 2012.

“Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone: Who are the Decision Makers?” African Journal of Reproductive Health 16 (4): 119-31. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1353615817?accountid=14524.

Bosire, Tom Obara. “The Bondo secret society: female circumcision and the Sierra Leonean state.” PhD diss., University of Glasgow, 2012.

“Country Profile: FGM in Sierra Leone.” 28 Too Many. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://www.28toomany.org/static/media/uploads/Country%20Research%20and%20Resources/Sierra%20Leone/sierra_leone_country_profile_v1_(june_2014).pdf.

Female Genital Mutilation; Politicians in Sierra Leone use Support for Female Circumcision to Win Votes.” 2005.Women’s Health Law Weekly, Apr 10, 39. https://search.proquest.com/docview/232641884?accountid=14524.

Johansen, R. Elise B., Nafissatou J. Diop, Glenn Laverack, and Els Leye. “What Works and What Does Not: A Discussion of Popular Approaches for the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation.” Obstetrics and Gynecology International 2013 (2013): 1-10. doi:10.1155/2013/348248

LEVERAGING EDUCATION TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION/CUTTING WORLDWIDE.” Accessed February 19, 2018. International Center for Research on Women. https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ICRW-WGF-Leveraging-Education-to-End-FGMC-Worldwide-November-2016-FINAL.pdf.

Lionello, Anna M. 2015. “Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone: A Phenomenological Study of the Experience of Abandonment.” Order No. 3700987, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1680833593?accountid=14524.

Smart, Nina. “Resisting World Polity Transmission: The Silence on the Globalization of anti-FGM legislation in the Parliament of Sierra Leone.” PhD diss., University of California, Irvine , 2012.

“The Community Empowerment Program .” Tostan International . Accessed February 20, 2018.

“What is FGM?” 28Toomany. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://www.28toomany.org/what-is-fgm/.

 

Image by bobthemagicdragon



 

EDUCATION: NEPAL’S TICKET TO THE WORLD STAGE

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by Bailey Marsheck
Staff Writer

It’s fascinating how a country deemed “The Roof of the World” can fall so deeply into the shadows of its neighbors. The small Himalayan nation of Nepal, sandwiched between China and India, has struggled to find its footing since its 1990 transition from monarchy to series of short, dysfunctional democratic regimes. Its economy has grown neither robustly nor equitably. Nepal is disadvantaged by its landlocked, heavily mountainous terrain. As a result, its poor and isolated rural areas are a far cry from the relative wealth of the Kathmandu Valley. Yet if the Nepali government were to prioritize its education system, especially in improving the rural schools lagging far behind their urban counterparts, Nepal may eventually outgrow its impoverished LDC status to become a major player in South Asia.  Nepal’s recent local and national elections could be a first step in the right direction.

Nepal is ranked 144th out of the 188 countries on the United Nations’ 2016 Human Development Report, using an HDI indicator argued to be a better measure of living standard than GDP because it captures disparity in wealth and opportunity. In particular, the children of rural Nepali villages face massive education inequality. Many children have to walk up to two hours a day to attend underfunded schools decimated by a massive earthquake in 2015.

Like many countries struggling to develop, Nepal remains trapped in a stifling economic cycle. It has poor infrastructure and an underfunded education system, providing it citizens with few opportunities to prosper. Those who do find success tend to pursue employment elsewhere, exposing Nepal to brain drain as the number of Nepali citizens migrating outwards for work is growing each year. Many of these workers use migration as a means to support families back home in Nepal, as 31% of Nepal’s 2015 GDP was remittance-based, the highest of any country in Asia or the Pacific. The problem is that the Nepalese are working to build up other developed nations, subsisting but creating nothing of value within Nepal itself.

Some of Nepal’s struggles stem from a systematic lack of human capital. The few who get the choice to leave Nepal for lucrative job opportunities are almost always from wealthier urban provinces, where students attend private schools and learn English at a much higher rate. English language learning is essential for achieving the requisite level of education to succeed in today’s globalized world. Nepal has few established universities and many Nepalese seek higher education outside of Nepal, impossible in most cases without a firm grasp of English. The Nepali language is rarely spoken by foreigners, while English is the business lingua franca for those working abroad or even internally with the few multinational corporations in Nepal. English is also paramount to Nepal’s tourism industry, making up 7.5% of Nepal’s 2016 GDP as adventurous travelers seek the beauty of the Himalayas and the Annapurna Mountains.

Yet those living in rural areas don’t have access to proper school materials, least of all English learning resources. A staggering 81% of Nepal’s population is designated by the World Bank as rural dwellers, one of the highest percentages in the world. Most of these villagers are relegated to quasi-subsistence farming lifestyles, with agriculture being the largest share of Nepal’s GDP. As Nepal’s mountainous terrain isn’t very fertile, farmers work terraced plots and hope for favorable monsoon seasons.

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Having lived an agricultural existence for generations, many parents don’t see the advantages of sending children to school and assume they will take over their parents’ farming role. Those who do attend make do with a lack of basic materials in the old school buildings left intact by 2015’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. There are still significant gender barriers in Nepali culture regarding education as well. Girls are the first children to be pulled from schools and put to work or even married off, as Nepal is very patriarchal and education for girls often isn’t considered worthwhile. A massive 30% of Nepali children never start school, and only 70% of those who do start even make it to grade 8. The school participation rate is highly skewed towards the urban male demographic.

Recent Developments

Nepal has been in the news with an unusual frequency over the last few years. Foremost was a possible stabilization of Nepal’s government along with political empowerment of local communities.  May 2017 brought the first local elections in over 20 years as the country decentralizes its political power, continuing its transition from a unitary system to a federalist structure. A more equitable power distribution may help to close the gulf between Kathmandu and surrounding areas as representatives from rural provinces can ensure that those in the central government expand their policy scope. With stronger connections to government officials, citizens will be encouraged to push for modernizing reforms rather than leaving politics to the urban elites.

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In December of 2017, a landmark legislative election brought the communist “Left Alliance” of the United Marxist-Leninist and Maoist Centre parties to power. Two of the major selling points for voters were the coalition’s prospects for stability and grassroots mobilization. More than just an exercise of political voice, a stable Nepali government would increase the country’s attractiveness to multinational corporations. One reason for Nepal’s low level of foreign direct investment is an unpredictable government system littered with corruption, discouraging any companies from entering and establishing Nepali industry. Good governance might serve as a rebranding signal that the country is open for business. But stability remains far from a given, as the Maoist party is best known for its Mao Zedong-esque revolutionary spirit and was involved in an armed struggle with the government only a decade ago. There are hopes that the party’s more progressive treatment of women and rural proletarian empowerment may encourage higher levels of education and equality. Communist ideologies have a polarized relationship with education, as education systems have both been encouraged and done away with entirely in the pursuit of socialism. At the same time, the parties have adopted a milder ideology accepting the necessity of building up economic power in order to thrive.

There are reasons to be optimistic about Nepal’s future development. A less centralized political system with a governing coalition that is more in touch with its people should better allocate resources to poorer regions. Assuming the current government outlasts its predecessors, political continuity has a chance to attract outside investment and keep Nepal’s brightest from emigrating for more lucrative opportunities. But the necessary human capital to take advantage of these opportunities is impossible to build without equalizing an education system that privileges the few urbanites while ignoring the country’s overwhelmingly-rural labor force.

Images by:
World Bank Photo Collection
Bruno Vanbesien
Sirensongs