External environment is not a valid excuse

Ask a lawmaker what the problem with Nepal is and a reply you commonly hear is ‘external environment’. Ask an industrialist or a trade union leader, or even perhaps a man walking on the street, and you’ll hear the same answer, ‘external environment in this country is not right’ is echoed all across.

But what is the nature of this ubiquitous monster that plagues Nepal’s economic and political prospects? What is it made of? After all, if this is indeed the problem then understanding its character becomes vital to any attempts to formulating a solution.

External environment, the very word feeds on its ability to overcome narrow definitional constrictions. It perhaps refers to the lack of a central covenant viz., the constitution, to guide our internal relations as a nation. It would also mean a political culture where the rights of others is grossly disrespected, or an environment in which the grand notion of freedom is snipped at and edited to suit ourselves. Or does it mean hostile foreign forces bent on molesting the resources of Nepal and forever keeping it under the shadow of dependency. External environment begs the question: external to what? External to self? If so, that sounds more like a mere terminological side-step to avoiding any form of moral and professional responsibility. After all, if the problem is external how can internal actors be held responsible or even accountable!

Aware of the vast challenges that confront our ever-transitioning nation, I still find it difficult to make peace with blaming an ambiguous environment for our shortfalls; as if to suggest we have no control over our own conditions. As if we, as individuals and a society, cannot dictate the terms we choose to live by. Such carelessness with our power of choice, the power to make a difference goes against the spirit of democracy that our peoples have repeatedly sacrificed. Acceptance of such helplessness should be a matter of shame, where we have surrendered our individual and social energies at the feet of an abstract, intangible, and self-imposed tyrant.

It would indeed be unfair to suggest that there isn’t anything that people cannot control or must not control to suit our needs. Research in the field of political and social psychology, genetic studies, and sociology point to a number of factors that are beyond our immediate control: we are limited by our biological and social genetic makeup. But when we repeat the excuse of external environment however is not about these. It refers to those things that are very much under our control and our jurisdiction but best left untouched lest it inconvenience ourselves and a structure to which we’ve accustomed ourselves.

If the policy is at the roots of the problem, lets debate the policy; if work culture is the problem, let the stakeholders stand up and weigh there claims against each other. If the problem is illiteracy or the lack of capital, there are ways of addressing them. These are not issues we can’t solve. The excuse of external environment refers to a gross magnification of the status quo bias: we don’t want to change because change makers themselves are cosy in the present state of things.

Given the challenges we face, and the opportunities ahead this excuse of ‘external environment’ stands invalid. The restoration of democracy and freedom of choice transcends the act of punching a ballot every couple of years. It means we have a right to transform our condition, and no environment, external or internal, should be a reason against exercising such a liberty.

Slok Gyawali

Slok Gyawali is a Senior Research Officer at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation. He has previously worked as a political analyst for think-tanks in Washington D.C, and New Delhi. He has also contributed articles for various newspapers and magazines in Nepal, India and the UK. He holds strong opinions about Test cricket.